Rewards Done Right: Dry Top and Silverwastes

If there is any one thing about Heart of Thorns that I am excited about, it’s the announcement that the Heart of Maguuma will have the same meta-event approach present in Silverwastes (and to a lesser extent, Dry Top).

While others have said they like either zone for how there’s always something going on, or the anti-zerg approach to things (try to get a T4 Dry Top by zerging it, just try), the reasons why the two zones work so well (and why Silverwastes is more popular than Dry Top) are far more varied.

In this post, I’m going to explore nine different characteristics that set these zones apart from the core game. In a second post, I have noted what makes Dry Top fall short of Silverwastes for raw popularity (and what could be fixed to help).

Rewards

The newest zones are positively littered in rewards of all forms. But beyond that, there are rewards for short, medium and long term goals, and each of them helps progress the others. And even when all of those goals have been achieved, there’s still something to gain.

Short term goals

Dry Top examples:

  • Completing single events (gain geodes)
  • Achieving a high tier before Sandstorm
  • Finding buried chests during Sandstorm

Silverwastes examples:

  • Completing single events (gain crests)
  • Holding a fort until Breach
  • Taking down Legendaries
  • Completing Breach
  • Completing Vinewrath

At the smallest reward level of the game, the event, you constantly get something. And the more events that you do, the greater the overall reward, with chances to shortcut the currency with some lucky rolls (e.g., glove box drops).

Mid term goals

Dry Top example:

  • Geode recipes (particularly the Mawdrey-related ones)

Silverwastes examples:

  • Carapace armor pieces
  • Ascended accessories
  • Mordrem organs
  • Killing all legendaries

In the midterm, after someone has done a few runs of either map, they start getting some rewards to show their progress on the map. Carapace armor itself has the unique distinction of being one of only three armor sets added to the game proper since release (the other two being Luminescent and the ascended armor skins).

This is key, because even if a player loses interest in doing the long-term goals of the zones, they still have something to show for their time spent. It may not be as impressive, but it’s still distinctive.

Long term goals

Dry Top example:

  • Ambrite weapons

Silverwastes example:

  • Luminescent armor

After working for a long time (though how long varies per player), a player ends up with the capstone goal of the zone. Both the weapons and the armor are very distinctive, setting the players who have completed them apart from others.

Anyone who looks at a player with some Ambrite weapons, or a set of Luminescent knows immediately what they spent time doing. There is a direct incentive based on this, because on top of the rewards looking pretty, they symbolize a specific form of dedication.

Continuing goals

Dry Top example:

  • Zephyrite lockpicks

Silverwastes example:

  • Bandit skeleton keys

Even after someone has a capstone goal, there’s still things to get and acquire. It never feels like a player is gaining nothing for spending more time (or gaining less than they could get elsewhere because all that’s left is getting gold or materials to turn into gold).

The Draw

Of course, all the rewards in the world aren’t that good if they can’t be backed by something to draw players there. Especially with the large number of people needed to make the overall meta-event function.

Reason to go

Initially, the reason to go to Dry Top or Silverwastes was Living World. They were new and steadily revealed by each episode released (1-4 in Dry Top, 5-8 in Silverwastes).

But now, that reason has been replaced by the exclusive loot available from the area (as well as Silverwastes’ reputation as the best farm in the game). This draw won’t go away at any point, and it won’t lessen until another, newer area with just as exclusive loot is added to the game.

Reasons to stay

At least within an individual cycle (finishing Foothold, Breach, Vinewrath in Silverwastes, a full 40/20 in Dry Top), there is always something going on. Players can reliably say “just wait a few more seconds” and an event will spawn. This constant pace prevents someone from getting bored from lack of things to do.

This alone stands in sharp contrast to the vast majority of the game, where while events do cycle, there’s no predictability about when a new chain will start, short of pulling up an event tracker.

Also, there is a strong incentive to stay for at least a cycle. In Silverwastes, higher level defenses reward more than low level ones, and the Perseverance buff builds in a reason to stay with it once the full five stacks are up. In Dry Top, all the work done before Sandstorm pays off as geode rewards double and buried chests emerge.

Gameplay

No amount of rewards or reasons to show up and stick around are going to matter if the gameplay isn’t enjoyable. Sure, farmers might suffer through a terrible zone because of bragging rights, but most people are going to leave it for more fun places at top speed.

Dry Top and Silverwastes both have three facets that assure they feel fun, even as they’re rewarding.

Smooth difficulty curve

One lesser-appreciated aspect of Dry Top and Silverwastes is that a player can jump right in without a single clue of what they’re doing. Even better, each zone’s overall purpose can be described in a couple sentences in chat.

Elitism has a much harder time having a reason to exist, because at the lowest level, adding a complete newbie to an event won’t make it fail.*

*There are some exceptions to this, most of them in Dry Top.

On the other side of it, people looking to direct the flow of the map or challenge themselves aren’t stuck with a bunch of simple elements that anyone could do in their sleep. For each newbie who is happy doing the event’s basic requirements, there is room for an expert to make it easier, or show their mastery of the content.

For example, consider a defense event in Silverwastes. Killing mobs is always helpful, as a newbie will likely do. But an expert will know about the strength of getting rid of Vine Crawlers, using boiling oil and other siege on mobs, and calling in air strikes.

Both player types exist side by side, eventually encouraging the newbie into learning the nuances of each part of the content.

Varied mechanics

I could go on for an entire other post about the level of variety in the mechanics of both Dry Top and Silverwastes. Suffice to say, though, that each area has its own flow, each set of mobs have move sets that synergize in powerful ways, and no two bosses fight alike.

Because of this, if one part of the zone gets boring, it’s trivially easy to go somewhere else and still enjoy the rewards that the zone has as a whole.

Furthermore, it takes longer to be an absolute master of everything, meaning that those who love being able to say “been there, done that, mastered it all”* have to work at it before they can legitimately claim it.

*This definitely includes me.

Finally, it gives people the constant opportunity to fit a different role. Taking another example, a lane during Vinewrath needs a lot of different roles:

  • Siege operators
  • Carrier supporters (includes heals and stealth)
  • Torch carriers (for air strike)
  • Ammunition gatherers
  • Mob killers and disruptors (“get away from my carrier!”)

Everything Matters

For the most part (spoiler: a good part of why Dry Top fails is the other part), everything done in Dry Top and Silverwastes matters. As long as a player isn’t standing around adoring idle animations (or gray screen), they are helping the map succeed.

This aspect cannot be underestimated, because it brings the vaunted helpful community along for the ride. There aren’t things that a player does that will screw over the rest of the people attempting to do the meta-event. (Most of the time, if a player does something stupid, he pays for it with his life, but no one else’s).

This builds goodwill toward anyone doing anything. Everything counts toward the bar at the top right, or makes increasing that bar easier, so people have no reason to yell “WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS WASTING OUR TIME, COME OVER HERE AND DO THIS OTHER THING.” (Assuming that someone is nice enough to phrase it that way)

Conclusion

Dry Top and Silverwastes show a paradigm shift in how ArenaNet crafts zones, putting a greater emphasis on exclusive rewards, varied mechanics, and ensuring that each little thing helps toward the overall goal. To hear that the same approach is going to be in the new zones is the number one thing making me anxious for it to release. We’ll see where it goes.

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