Fixing Fractals: A Comprehensive Look at Content, Expansion, and Rewards

As promised on reddit and the official forums, I’m going to go over, in exhaustive detail, Fractals. Warning: I love Fractals. Like, a lot. Even if RNG hates me to death on the daily chests.

Note: I’ve organized this as cleanly as I can, but due to the breadth of it there is no TL;DR aside from the title. If you don’t want to read the suggestions (the vast majority), read “The Current State of Fractals”, “Why?” and “Why Go Back to Fractals?” for my core analysis.

The Current State of Fractals

Depending on who you ask, Fractals has been a broken mess since the Fractured patch of November 2013. Others will say that it’s gotten better by removing some of the frustration features, primarily in the Underground fractal (who doesn’t miss clown car?).

But aside from some bug-fixing (and in the case of daily chest drops, bug-introducing followed by bug-fixing), Fractals hasn’t seen much activity at all since May 2014. And if you cut Underground out of the mix, nothing since Fractured itself. (To back up this statement, I double-checked every update note between November 2013 and now)

Because of this, I can’t help but conclude that Fractals is considered abandoned by ArenaNet, a piece of content that “suffices” in its current state, but isn’t worth expanding compared to other potential content.

Why?

That’s the obvious question, isn’t it? It all stems back to that Fractured patch. On the face of it, it should have been popular. Consider:

  • 3 new regular fractals, 1 the promised Thaumanova (I swear that election was rigged by cheaper waypoint costs), 2 cut-down but functional versions of previous Living Story instances.
  • 2 new boss fractals, also derived from Living Story, adding variety to the snorefest known as Jade Maw.
  • Introduction of Mistlock Instabilities to add more challenge and purpose to each individual level, instead of it just being a number that ticks up by 1.
  • Introduction of a tier system to prevent ridiculously long runs (yay Volcanic, Cliffside, and Underground! All in the same run!) and ridiculously short ones (yay Swamp, Ascalon, and Underwater!).
  • New Agony Resistance drops to circumvent the “+10” limit that existing rings and back pieces were constrained to. (Side note: This has led to the +8/8/9 suggestion for creating 55AR with just trinkets)

All great stuff, right? However:

  • All three fractals were a buggy mess at release, especially Thaumanova. Add in a forced story instance (which often bugged, as it did for me) to show Scarlet’s influence in it blowing up, and it was a Charlie Foxtrot.
  • Both boss fractals were in a different league in time to complete from Jade Maw. Granted, Jade Maw was (and still is) an unfailable snorefest, but the scaling HP of the bosses was much higher than the Jade Maw’s. In addition to being more failure-prone (good thing), they took longer (bad thing after 3 long fractals).
  • Most Instabilities were… a) annoying, b) ignorable,  c) ludicrously difficult to deal with, or d) only a gear check (looking at you, Levels 40 and 50). And instabilities were placed pretty much at random across the 20 levels. There are Tier 4 Instabilities that no one ever wants to do, while the second highest Tier 5 Instability is considered an ignorable joke.
  • The Tier system could still render long run times because Cliffside was a Tier 2 or 3. People are still asking for it to be moved exclusively to Tier 3 due to the double boss fight (start and end).
  • Drop rates of Fractals-exclusive items plummeted. Fractal weapon skins went from transmutation bait to excessively rare. This necessitated adjusting the drop rates 3 times (I counted) since the patch.
  • Everyone’s reward level was reset to 30. If anything made people livid about Fractured, this is it.

Sure, there were some people who had ludicrous (and technically impossible) reward levels thanks to some of the 99% Jade Maw strategies that existed for a while before being patched out.

But under the justification of “Fractal Leaderboards”* and “experiencing the new instabilities”, progress players had made legitimately (anything up to 50 personal reward) was erased. It was a deserved PR nightmare.

*Blessedly, said leaderboards were scrapped almost immediately.

Remember that instabilities were almost a wholesale flop when it came to their impact on the player base. They were simply something annoying to put up with, not an additional and interesting challenge.

Half the reason for resetting everyone’s level collapsed immediately. The Fractal Leaderboards, which only showed who achieved the new levels fastest, was likewise considered useless by the player base.

Based on the evidence I have available, ArenaNet made the wrong conclusion about the outcry over Fractured: they had released content the player base didn’t want.

Aside from satisfying the near-universal clamor for fixing Underground in the Fractals CDI, there has been no mention of expanding, updating, or doing anything with Fractals at all. It’s not even on the nothing-is-off-the-table Upcoming Changes and Features page on the wiki.

This is a missed opportunity. I cannot stress that enough. The original cause of the outcry had nothing to do with the new fractals, the updates to the reward structure, or for that matter, 90% of the update. It was completely focused on people losing their progress for perceived bad reasons. (That I contend in hindsight, are actual bad reasons due to the removal of one, and the marginalization of the other)

Note: I realize that other people might have complained vehemently about other aspects of the update, but the furor’s root cause was the erasure of progress.

Why Go Back to Fractals?

Narrative Strength

The #1 reason why I consider not putting any development time into Fractals a missed opportunity is the strength of the narrative. In Fractals lore, the entire dungeon is shards of possibilities, the maybe-maybe not of the Mists in solid form. Phrased another way, ArenaNet could implement any scenario in a Fractal and it would make sense from a lore perspective.

Consider what is evident in the Fractals we have already:

  1. Relive the past (Urban, Aetherblade, Molten Furnace, Thaumanova, Uncategorized)
  2. Go somewhere unrealistic, but based in reality (Cliffside, Solid Ocean, Volcanic)
  3. Go somewhere realistic, but doesn’t correspond to Tyrian geography (Underground, Aquatic Ruins, Swampland, Snowblind)

Fractals is a development kitchen sink waiting to happen. Want to reuse old Living Story content that doesn’t make sense in the here and now? Fractal it (and they already did this with Fractured). Want to show parts of Guild Wars’ past a la Bonus Mission Pack? Fractal it. Want to create a cool string of encounters with practically no justification putting them together? Fractal it. Want to settle the age-old question of “What if Togo and Kormir got in a fight? What if Rurik showed up, too?” Fractal it.

And all of that makes sense! Think about that for a few moments. It’s wish fulfillment on crack with an extra dose of speed. ArenaNet has created this amazing place where literally everything goes, and not a single lore buff is going to suffer a stroke from it. (Yes, that includes me)

Flexibility of the Formula

The second reason is the sheer flexibility of the dungeon. It’s random content (which fractals you roll are different each time, to an extent), semi-random difficulty (players can pick anywhere from 1-50), and a design paradigm of shorter segments as opposed to full-blown stories.

Yes, there’s gear gating, but with the preponderance of ways to get ascended trinkets these days, 80% of the total pool of Fractal levels are available in very little time, 95% with a little more work (either +8/8/9 or getting ascended weapons). Only Level 50, the final one available at present, is gated in a real sense, requiring +10/10/10 and ascended weapons, or 3 pieces of ascended armor and ascended weapons.

Throw out the need for AR, and it’s absurdly flexible. People can pick their challenge, and their reward, provided they’re properly prepared. The only real skill floor is knowing how each of the encounters work (which is a lot of encounters, to be fair).

Challenge Expected, Challenge Accepted

Fractals has the deserved reputation, partially caused by the gear gating, of being some of the most skill-requiring PvE content in the game. For most people, running around in berserker gear is suicide because they don’t know how to avoid or otherwise mitigate the increased ways mobs will attack compared to dungeons, Fractals’ nearest competition.

People who run Fractals are perfectly fine with challenging, difficult scenarios. They expect it, and they will overcome it. Sure, there are cases where difficulty is thoroughly artificial through the application of huge numbers (yay, Mai Trin rebalance!), but there are plenty of others where coordination is required to stay alive and progress (Volcanic final boss, Old Tom in Uncategorized, most of the seals in Cliffside, the beginning of Swamp).

This is the opposite paradigm and concern of open-world PvE, where if something is too inaccessible, it runs the risk of being snubbed by the player base. ArenaNet has to walk a fine line there of engaging, challenging content, and just enough safety nets to keep people from being frustrated. (Remember all the frustration around the Marionette and the Assault Knights, both for skilled and unskilled players?)

Fractals is a perfect location to push the limits of what challenges players have to overcome. It’s expected, it’s welcomed, and if it doesn’t have anything to do with one-shots Fractal runners will love it.

Fixing Existing Fractals Content

Having established that it’s a really good idea to pick this almost-forgotten dungeon back up, it must be said that there are some flaws in the existing framework. Before expanding on it, Fractals needs to be on a good, solid foundation.

Restore Consistency between Tiers and Agony

Before the Fractured update, tiers were based on when the agony increased (1-9, 10-19, etc.). After it, tiers changed to even numbers (1-10, 11-20, etc.).

In addition to being confusing to newer players, it’s created the weird situation where having to be prepared for more agony rewards functionally the same as being prepared for the existing level of agony (completing 20, or 30, or 40).

It’s unnecessary inconsistency. Restoring tiers to their original form would reduce confusion, both in new player understanding and in reward/effort consistency.

(Side Note: the LFG Tool still shows Tiers based on the old system, not the new one)

Stop Relying on Pure RNG for the Unique Rewards

If Fractals has had any consistent complaint in its entire 2 year-2 month existence, it’s been the RNG. It’s a special dungeon with its own unique gear, but other than rings (and backpieces, which aren’t on the daily chest loot table anyway) there are zero ways to get the contents without a roll of the dice.

As I’ve gone over previously, extreme rarity for items available anywhere in the game (and thus available for a price at the Trading Post) is necessary at present.

But that logic does not apply to inherently account-bound exclusive drops. High-level Fractals, even with the luckiest short rolls, take a very long time compared to the average dungeon. It always stinks to get to the end of it, and receive a ring you don’t need or nothing at all.

So rather than requiring the application of raw RNG to maybe possibly get the ring/Fractal weapon skin/ascended weapon/ascended armor a player wants, implement another way for a dedicated Fractal player to get what they want.

There already exist two Fractal-locked currencies to draw from: Pristine Fractal Relics and Fractal Relics. Add the various unique drops (at increased costs) to BUY-4373. Just to stick some numbers at it:

  • Fractal Weapon Box (Random chance of any of the 19 skins), 20 Pristine Fractal Relics and 1,000 Fractal Relics
  • Fractal Weapon Choosing Box (Exactly the skin you want), 35 Pristine Fractal Relics and 1,500 Fractal Relics
  • Ascended Weapon/Armor Box (Random Stat Selection, any weapon/piece of armor), 25 Pristine Fractal Relics and 1,000 Fractal Relics
  • Ascended Weapon/Armor Choosing Box (Exact Stat Selection, any weapon/piece of armor), 40 Pristine Fractal Relics and 1,500 Fractal Relics
  • Endless Fractal Tonic, 100 Pristine Fractal Relics and 10,000 Fractal Relics

Having the Boxes and the Choosing Boxes gives players the choice of exactly what they want for slightly more, or just anything for less. At the same time, it’s a lot of runs to get any of these items, especially the bordering-on-mythic Endless Fractal Tonic.

UPDATE: Based on a tip from reddit user Charrikayu, I’ve created an addendum for locking these rewards to their already-existing personal reward level requirements.

Implement Ring Salvage and/or Mystic Forging

A quick browse of Fractals topics, or any mention of the word “Ring” in the general vicinity of the Guild Wars 2 community, will render one phrase at lightning speed: “I have bank tabs full of rings I don’t need!”

And while the RNG-acquired rings are useless for the player, they took time to get and throwing away something valued at 35 laurels (or selling it for the low-low-going-out-of-business-everything-must-go price of 4.95s) never feels right.

I’ve seen suggested countless times the ability to salvage rings into a pittance of random ascended crafting materials (things like Bloodstone Dust, Empyreal Fragment, and Dragonite Ore, and maybe a rare chance at the account-bound crafting pieces). It goes from account bound to account bound, with it either impossible to monetize (Dust, Fragments, Ore) or requires additional work to make money on (account-bound crafting pieces).

I’ve also seen suggested a “pick your actual stats with your unwanteds” approach to a Mystic Forge recipe. Throw in three unwanted rings and some of the appropriate jewel (want berserker ring, put in some Ruby Orbs, want Cleric’s, pull out the Sapphire), and out comes what you want.

This latter approach might be limited by the fact that certain jewels literally don’t exist (Dire, Captain, off the top of my head), but adding another item to BUY-4373 that sells for relics and “selects” the desired stat would also work.

Apply a Data-Driven Approach to Fractal Rewards

This section derives heavily from the post I’ve already written about dungeon rewards. Please reference there if you’re not already familiar.

Rather than attempt to shoehorn the dungeon metrics on to fractals*, I’m going to suggest a similar approach with different ones.

*I did attempt to do so. It was a convoluted mess not fit to print.

Rewards are based per fractal, rather than a generalized composite based on level like we have now.

Also, rewards are only given with a daily chest. Yes, that does mean that the subtiers I mention two paragraphs from now are self-canceled due to the way actual tiers work (e.g., do a Level 38, and a Level 33 won’t award squat).

First, fractal completion time, on a single fractal basis. Some fractals take much longer than others and the per-fractal reward should reflect that.

Second, fractal level, split into 5-level segments. Based on my experience, it takes about 5 fractal levels to start noticing the differences in mob scaling and overall difficulty, so rather than creating a massive parallel dataset that requires 50 separate columns of 11 fractals, condense it to simply 10.

To prevent confusion, I’ll be calling these 5-level segments Tier I, II, III (as opposed to the 1-10, 11-20 Tier 1 and 2).

(Side Note: If consistency is restored to tiers and agony, Tier I under this system would be 1-4, Tier II 5-9, Tier III 10-14, and so on)

Baseline Rewards

Each fractal should have a base reward between 0.05g and 0.3g. The actual amount of reward on this range should be based on average completion time per tier. Because of these tiny base values, more granularity is required than with dungeons. I suggest every 0.01g for a total of 26 increments. (If this seems needlessly picky, keep reading, you’ll see why.)

For example, if a Level 3 run of Uncategorized takes on average 10 minutes, but a run of Cliffside takes 60, Cliffside should reward at base 0.3g, and Uncategorized should reward 0.05g.

Because of the scaling nature of difficulty in Fractals, it would be disingenuous to pool every run of Uncategorized at Level 3 with the ones at Level 49 (they don’t even have the knockback from harpies yet). Yes, this requires more specific data to be stored than in the case of dungeons, but it’s a more tailored implementation.

Scaling the Rewards

Having established the average completion per tier of each fractal, that base reward is then multiplied by whatever tier the fractal level is on.

For example, if it’s that Level 3 Uncategorized, it’s a Tier I, so it’s multiplied by 1 and stays 0.05g. But if it’s a Level 49 Uncategorized, that’s a Tier X, thus multiplied by 10 and becomes 0.5g. For the longest fractals, this same approach turns Cliffside into a 3g payday at Level 49.

Combining Them

With a system like this, double-rolling Cliffside and Underground pays off evenly, even if it takes longer. For example, let’s say a group starts on Uncategorized, rolls Cliffside, then Underground. With my existing numbers (assuming Underground has similar time to Cliffside), a Level 49 group would pick up 6.5g for finishing it.

Revamping Instabilities

As I noted up above, right now instabilities are pointless. Undesirable ones are circumvented by just piggybacking on someone who has a higher level. Strictly speaking, only a handful of people had to endure every single instability.

And that’s a waste. Instabilities have the feel of semi-controllable gambits, able to shift the tone of the varied encounters in Fractals. It’s a great idea, with only partial execution.

So rather than fixed instabilities at fixed levels, why not a group choice of a subset? Picture this. At the start of a given fractal run (31+), a box pops up with three choices, cribbed from a subset of 5-7 instabilities that used to be at the levels around it (so if they’re level 34, the original instabilities from 31-37 would be potential choices). The group picks one, and that’s their instability.

If they really don’t like any of the choices, they can bail out and restart, the same sort of option that people exercise when they seek to “roll swamp.”

But a semi-choosing mechanism doesn’t solve the problem of some instabilities being avoided like the plague while others are picked for their sheer ignorability.

Recall that Fractal runners love challenges. To give a push towards accepting a challenge, implement two separate achievement sets:

  1. Instability Explorer (0/20 Instabilities Experienced). Complete a fractal run with each of the existing instabilities. Credit is awarded upon daily chest. This number can be expanded if/when fractal levels are increased.
  2. Flawless Instability Explorer. Some instabilities can be completely avoided, though it is very difficult (I’m counting 8, though I forget if the lightning is avoidable or not). In these cases, there should be a separate achievement for each of them. Some of them will require very specific party compositions, or a change in playstyle to accomplish. Runs to get a Flawless Instability have the possibility of being a special LFG all their own.

I do realize the latter one invites elitism and perhaps some bad blood. However, the achievement is at the individual level, so if a player avoids the Mossman’s axe throw, they still get credit. (Though only his first hit, not the rebound, should be an achievement disqualifier)

Hobby Fractal Explorer

Once someone hits 500 individual fractals completed, that’s it. No ongoing AP reward for sticking with it. Compared to its nearest cousin, the dungeon, Fractals get the short end of the AP stick, despite being much broader in scope.

So change the Fractal Frequenter title to be much shorter than the existing 500 (say, 50, where the current track starts expanding), and implement Hobby Fractal Explorer, with each completion requiring 20 completed fractals (5 full runs). Let it repeat enough times to be roughly comparable to the existing Hobby Dungeon Explorer.

Expanding Fractals

Now that the existing framework is in better shape, what are some ways ArenaNet can expand it? I’m going to go over three: Adding New Fractals, Adding New Levels/Instabilities (with the added necessity of Expanding Infusion), and Recrafting Move Sets.

Adding New Fractals

Fractals is ripe for any new content that ArenaNet wants to take the time to develop. The lower (relatively) bar of a mini-dungeon with some scaling values means that it’s much easier to develop for than crafting a new zone, or releasing a new dungeon path. At the least, it’s a way to test the waters before launching into a full-scale revamp and/or expansion of party-based content like dungeons.

I already mentioned the four existing categories up above, but I’d like to recategorize and offer some examples:

  1. Historical Events, GW2. Rip off the Bonus Mission Pack idea, but for areas that are better suited to a party. Ex: Destiny’s Edge taking out a dragon lieutenant
  2. Historical Events, GW1. We’ve already got the takeover of Unnamed Ascalonian City, why not some other stuff? Ex: Taking down a GW1 boss with GW2 skillsets (great boss fractal material)
  3. Possible Futures. Though Word of God has stated that Fractals is exclusively “pasts” of some sort, the Mists has always been a poorly-understood location. Making a possible future fractal isn’t far-fetched to me. Ex: A shattered Black Citadel with the Flame Legion in control
  4. Ludicrous Scenarios. Who says all fractals need to  be serious? Having something ridiculous like a 3-way fight of armies led by possessed versions of known characters would be both fun and hilarious. Ex: Rurik (Ascalonians) v. Togo (Canthans) v. Kormir (Sunspears)
  5. Tests of Skill. Cliffside is arguably this, with the entire thing a progression of puzzles tied around the central mechanic of the hammer. Have more of these! Even if Cliffside is long, it’s my personal favorite. Ex: An Asuran lab built more like a death trap. Think Vexa’s Lab if it merged with Aperture Laboratories

As I said before, Fractals is ripe for pretty much any kind of content that ArenaNet wants to develop, and it’s content that will immediately be in the rotation and of interest to players.

Adding New Levels/Instabilities

It was stated back around the Fractured release that fractal weapon boxes (for your choice of weapon) were in the code, but were reserved for higher levels that would eventually be implemented. Cue lots of disappointment.

Implement those levels! With the existence of full ascended, getting enough AR to survive the top levels isn’t difficult for the hardcore fractal runner.

However, this doesn’t come without some caveats. As new levels get added, several elements that were sufficient at Level 1-50 won’t work as well.

HP scaling is already fairly ridiculous at level 50, with boss fights lasting 2-3 times longer than they did at level 10. Rather than continuing to scale HP, add more boss moves (whether implemented by phasing, replacing less-powerful abilities, or even alongside the existing abilities). It forces people to use new mechanics as opposed to executing the same fight mechanics longer.

Flatten the AR curve

+15AR per tier wasn’t bad for levels 1-49, but it gets brutal for level 50 onward. Lowering the +AR gain  (say, +10) on higher tiers would make it more accessible to players without removing the core gating element.

Make some fractals exclusive to certain level ranges

As the pool of fractals grows, the possibility of extreme dilution (never playing a certain one because RNG has so many to pick from) becomes a concern. Instead of having a universal pool at all levels, have some fractals that only happen between levels 1-40, some that happen between 20-60, and so on.

Higher level-restricted fractals should start off with tougher mechanics, more brutal enemies, and in general expect more from the party. This fulfills the expectation of challenge, and averts fights just becoming Bags of HP vs. Increasingly Bored Players.

This also lowers the pressure for ArenaNet’s balance and scaling of a new fractal. If it’s only between 20-60, the scaling curve will be neater than trying to keep pertinence for everything between 1 and 100. Also, move sets* don’t need to get heedlessly complicated tier-on-tier because there’s only so many tiers a boss appears on.

*See Reworking Move Sets for more details on this.

Implementing “double instability”

At the beginning of a fractal run, players are given 5 choices and must pick 2, with the 5 choices drawn from the entire pool of instabilities. This would raise the difficulty without needing to necessarily raise the scaling.

With more levels comes more instability, but one long-term possibility is also implementing an “extra instability” reward system. Parties can request a second (or third…or fourth) additional instability for each fractal they complete. (This helps prevent abuse by just reselecting until you get an ideal 2-set, because the party has already invested in the fractal run). For each additional instability above the required number, magic find and overall gold rewards should be increased by some percentage.

Expanding Infusion

UPDATE: Because I suck at math and can’t do 14*5 + 15.

Right now, only rings and backpieces can be infused through the use of the Mystic Forge, limiting the freeform Agony Infusion slots to only 3 possible locations. That limits the maximum nominal AR (assuming +5 on the three infuse-ables) to 85.

Expanding the existing Agony formula out, 85AR only negates Level 60-69 agony. That’s not much of a level expansion opportunity, especially if the periodic agony damage instabilities are a continuous tier-start gate.

Even applying the ridiculous case of someone getting 3 +10’s (oh my, the cost) increases AR to 100, enough to handle Levels 70-79…but drop dead to anything higher.

A simpler answer is to expand the existing infusion formulas to the other various ascended gear. All 14 potential pieces of gear with 10AR is 140, enough to make Level 100 a tough, but do-able time.

Realistically, infusion capability should only expand as far as is necessary to make new fractal levels available. In the case of expanding to Level 60, allowing an infused amulet would increase nominal trinket AR to 50. Add in weapons (+10) and two armor pieces (+10) and Levels 50-59 are do-able, with 60 itself requiring another 3 armor pieces. (Note: This is identical to the current situation at 49/50 aside from the addition of two ascended armor pieces for Levels 50-59)

Reworking Move Sets

When I first started in on Fractals, I thought that every boss (and to an extent, every mob) gained new moves each tier, adding additional depth to every fight and making each tier distinct beyond simply “bigger numbers of things to kill”.

Then I got disappointed when the mobs only gained moves at Level 10, and the bosses stopped gaining at Level 20 (if they gained at all). The possibility for some really awesome and nuanced fights beyond just “fighting trash” is there, it just needs to be tapped.

For each tier (1-9, 10-19, e.g.), a fractal’s boss should gain an additional move or ability. Starting at the same tier, but skipping a tier (1-9, 10-29, e.g.), a fractal’s enemies should gain an additional move or ability.

For some examples, let’s consider everyone’s most hated enemy once it gains an additional move: the harpy. Its current move set is…

  1. Rapid Fire
  2. Crippling Shot
  3. Annoying Cawing
  4. (10+) Knockback AoE Ball of Hatred and Cursing

At Level 30…

5.  (30+) Teleport to an adjacent platform, blinding all enemies in melee.

It doesn’t add much, but it changes the nature of the encounter from “get in melee and nuke him now that he won’t throw the KABHC”.

Shifting over to a boss, consider the Ignorable bag of HP known as the Jellyfish Beast:

  1. Basic Melee Attack
  2. Shock field Channel
  3. Spawn Minions
  4. Consume Player (10+ causes agony)

With enough AR, he’s completely ignorable by just ranging him. His minions are easily kited, and the additional mechanic of the shock cages isn’t even attempted by players because he’s so much of a joke. What if he also had…

  1. (10+) Grant Swiftness and Quickness to Minions.
  2. (20+) Ink Cloud. Players within 1200 range are blinded and crippled while within the cloud. Minions cleanse one condition each second.
  3. (30+) Poison Volley. Jellyfish Beast targets every player with a fast-moving bolt of damaging poison (hard attack, long-lasting poison condition).

He’s deadlier, but also more interesting to fight because there’s more to look for than “is he close to me?”

Reworking the move sets of the various enemies in Fractals will give a better sense of the increase in tiers, as well as adding additional challenge for higher levels beyond simply executing the same fight for longer.

UPDATE: I have written an addendum about splitting out individual fractals to be accomplished in separate, connected pieces. The full suggestion, advantages, and disadvantages are contained within the post.

Advantages

I’ve written a lot above, and of course anything that’s suggested has its advantages and its difficulties for implementation. Rather than stick them in sequence, I’ve put them all here.

Fixing Existing Fractals Content

Doing any (or all) of these things has the chief advantage of signaling to the player base that dungeons and fractals aren’t abandoned, there were just other things in line in front of them. That are now out of the way.

Restore Consistency between Tiers and Agony

I actually cited the advantages for this one up above, but chiefly it’s to remove confusion.

Stop Relying on Pure RNG for the Unique Rewards

As stated in my post about the Gold Standard, RNG in already account bound things makes no sense. Adding an alternative, guaranteed means will give players two avenues towards getting what they want to, without feeling bummed out about crummy rolls.

Implement Ring Salvage and/or Mystic Forging

Do either or both of these, and people will stop griping about rings they can’t use. There might be a minor dip in bank tab sales at first, but that’ll be fixed when people start hoarding things not ascended rings.

Apply a Data-Driven Approach to Fractal Rewards

The vast majority of the advantages are covered in the Dungeon Rewards post, and the implementation I stated here takes into account the different scaling and nature of Fractals compared to dungeons.

Revamping Instabilities

The existing instability system doesn’t work, and is largely ignored. Attaching achievements and a different means of activating them (by party choice) will give players a reason to care about them.

Also, implementing a choice system lays the groundwork for future expansion where two or more instabilities might be the case.

Hobby Fractal Explorer

Mostly for giving parity to Fractals in the long term compared to dungeons. As it is right now, Hobby Dungeon Explorer outclasses Fractal Frequenter in every sense.

Expanding Fractals

Simplest and easiest way to change the message from “We haven’t forgotten you” to “Here’s what you’ve been waiting for” is to release new content. And thanks to the various advantages of Fractals from a development standpoint, it can be easier to develop and release for than a similar dungeon revamp.

Adding New Fractals

Self-explanatory. New areas, new situations, new mechanics, new reasons for players to forget the sting of Fractured.

Adding New Levels/Instabilities

Done with an eye toward increasing challenge instead of simply increasing numbers, new levels and instabilities could take the already preexisting set of fractals and make them fresher. Not as fresh as a brand new fractal, but it’s pretty close.

Expanding Infusion

Necessary side effect of adding new levels. Pushing players into needing ascended armor (as opposed to wanting it for sheer convenience or min/maxing) would likely go over very poorly with the player base.

Rather, give them the option by steadily expanding infusion capability to the other pieces of ascended gear.

Reworking Move Sets

New moves to force a new approach to the same old, tired mobs? If done well, it’ll add more nuance. The difficulty is that mob skills are some of the harder things to do well.

Difficulties

For every advantage, there must be some difficulties. Of course every suggestion I’ve made has development time, but some have more than others:

Restore Consistency between Tiers and Agony

Interestingly, changing this back would require the recoding of several dailies and the entire back-end reward system for Fractals. As simple as it looks on the surface, it’ll likely require a good deal of find/replace logic swapping the numbers.

Stop Relying on Pure RNG for the Unique Rewards

Adding new items (which actually already exist) to a merchant isn’t too difficult, but fine-tuning the prices to be both fair and challenging is.

What isn’t a problem is the economic question. Every single item in the entire chain is account bound and only acquirable directly by the player. Period.

Implement Ring Salvage and/or Mystic Forging

If rings salvage to simply more account materials, no economic concern. If they salvage rarely to something else account bound but craftable into a tradeable form…John Smith might have a few words.

Mystic Forging, however, no economic concern. Its main problem is implementing the new recipes (which I’m not sure if the logic for an Any 3 + Item = Specific Item recipe is part of Mystic Forge code), and the new item on BUY-4373 to specify the type of ring desired. The new items would also require some form of artwork, though it could be a color-shifted icon depending on the prefix desired.

Apply a Data-Driven Approach to Fractal Rewards

Similar to dungeon rewards, though scaling the rewards to not be excessive for the time spent will be a matter of fine-tuning the algorithm.

Revamping Instabilities

Crafting a brand new UI for choosing an instability would be a large programming overhead, especially compared to the hard-coded existing instabilities. Adding the achievements would also be a programming requirement, especially tracking “Flawless Instability”.

Also, the Flawless Instability achievement might not be a good achievement at all. I like the idea, but I see the potential for rage when a mechanic is missed.

Hobby Fractal Explorer

Logic for tracking fractal completions already exists. All that needs to be done on the programming side is hooking it up to a repeatable instead of to one track.

On the balancing side, figuring out how similar Fractal maximum AP is to dungeon maximum AP might be a necessity.

Expanding Fractals

Adding New Fractals

Art team, AI team, programming team, some other teams I’m likely forgetting. Crafting a fractal is simple compared to other tasks requiring that many teams, but it will take a conscious desire to make new fractals to actually have the bodies available for it.

Adding New Levels/Instabilities

Similar to above, without the need for the art team (and maybe not the AI team). This is easier to implement, but still takes time.

Expanding Infusion

Programming the new recipes will be a copy/paste nightmare on poor Zommy. However, all the materials and other requirements already exist. All that needs to be added is an identical-looking item that has an empty infusion slot.

Reworking Move Sets

Of all of my suggestions, this is the most complex. Making new enemies is hard. Changing enemies based on the level they are encountered is harder. That, and balancing the skills to be fun and intriguing, rather than really stupid and annoying.

Conclusion

Fractals is an awesome idea with plenty of potential to grow, catering with relative ease to a skill-focused audience that wants to challenge themselves while getting exclusive rewards.

With the amount of flexibility present in its very structure, I see no reason for ArenaNet not to come back to Fractals, terrible response to Fractured be kittened.

To help with that return, I’ve offered several suggestions to improve existing issues with Fractals, and several more to expand it in new directions.

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8 thoughts on “Fixing Fractals: A Comprehensive Look at Content, Expansion, and Rewards”

  1. I’ve read the entire thing and I’m very impressed. I only disagree with the 6.5g per run; a bit less rewarding than that, maybe 5g for a really tough run. Some level of scaling should be present.

    For me, I stopped at RL 20 after — so very luckily — getting zojja’s weapon box and thus my staff. I would love to play more fractals, but these things can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours, and if the greatest reward (reason I run it) is ultimately based on the last boss, I don’t want to roll Mai Trin and receive a copy of some ring I already have. Your guaranteed rewards would bring me back in, along with a few other of your suggestions.

    In short: ANet, hire this man.

    Like

  2. Really nice post, I personally did 19 instabilities of 20. The gold should be increased much more, and rewards are bad atm. We are doing daily fractal 50. So i agree with majority of your ideas.

    I am only against your idea of reducing agony resistance needed to certain fractal lvls. I would like it higher, because that would make it better for players who enjoy doing high lvl fractals, because that are people who enjoy doing them and did spend time gearing for it.

    Like

    1. I only meant reducing agony resistance gains beyond level 50, so rather than requiring the expected 85 at level 60, 80 instead. That still gates, and still requires the high level of investment, but doesn’t get ridiculous.

      Like

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