Dry Top is way less popular than it was when it was the focus of Living World and the entire map was new. But unlike some that would shrug and say “eh, it lost its newness, that’s why people don’t go there,” I think that several flaws with the map can be seen in hindsight. Flaws that I think ArenaNet saw, because they were fixed or avoided with Silverwastes.
In this post, I will note what is wrong with Dry Top, and compare it against Silverwastes to show the improved approach. I will also have suggestions for how to fix the problems of Dry Top without abandoning its original flow.
DISCLAIMER: For both Dry Top and Silverwastes I did not consult guides for my first few runthroughs. I still have not consulted a guide about Silverwastes that told me something I didn’t already know. I had to consult a guide about Dry Top to figure out where things happened and when.
If you’re interested in why Dry Top and Silverwastes are good areas in general, see this post.
Life on a Timer
Every event in Dry Top spawns on a timer. More specifically, 5 minute separated timers, with the Crash Site and Sandstorm meta events having different ones spawn all across the map.
At first blush, this sounds awesome:
- Events are predictable
- Positioning groups for an organized takedown of the area is reliably easy (only so many places need to be covered with the time spacing)
- No matter which area you’re in you’re at most 5 minutes from something to do
But in practice, it makes glaringly obvious how little choice players have in the matter. Agency, or the illusion of choice, is a vital element of making a game feel fun and enjoyable. Extra Credits went into the topic several months ago (look up “choice” on their playlists, too; great information).
The only incentive to finish an event faster than its 5 minute “window” is so that the next spawn time isn’t missed. And if a group of players is doing that consistently (required to gain a high tier), there will be lots of idle time, all caused by being efficient.
Compared to Silverwastes…
The longest window of nothing to do is either within the clearly marked Time Out (and only if a player is disinterested in Labyrinth, champion kill train, or chest farm), or the slight calm right after a fort is first taken.
Further, events either have clearly marked timers (defense events), or conclude when the objective is completed (rubble, eliminating Mordrem threats), many of them refreshing as soon as completed (supply bulls).
In these cases, the players have direct control over the outcome. Killing Mordrem spawns around a supply bull faster will net a faster event completion, allowing the next bull to start running sooner. Defense events that never have the main NPC drop finish reliably, while ones where that happened take longer to complete (if they are completed at all).
Beyond that, the overall meta completes faster the more coordinated and consistent the entire map is. Taking all four forts and defending them all successfully is the fastest way to Breach, and by design.
In a player-driven map like Dry Top, players need agency. They need the ability to do it better and have that contribute to the overall success of the area. Further, idle periods caused by sheer efficiency need to be avoided.
Fix #1: Completing an area event force-spawns the next one
One possible fix is having events chain-spawn similar to how Silverwastes does. Complete the :00 events at Uplands in 2 minutes, and the :05 event starts early. This directly rewards efficiency by increasing the effective amount of favor a group can generate in a 40 minute period.
This also creates an incentive to spread out to every area rather than zerging one particular area. Scaled up events with 20-30 people tend to take longer than ones being managed by 5-10. The entire map can be more efficient at gaining favor and geodes by splitting up, as the map is technically designed to encourage.
The negative side of this is it’s altogether possible to have groups so efficient that T6 Dry Top becomes just as common as T4 is right now. To curb this, let favor gained per area cap after a point, likely equating to the amount gained by every successful event on the existing timers plus a couple. Rewards for completing the events (geodes, sand) should remain unchanged.*
*I realize there’s a further caveat to this, but let’s discuss it in comments or a reddit thread. This post is already going to be fairly long.
Fix #2: Finishing an event faster than 5 minutes gives a small amount of additional favor
Rather than have favor bonuses narrowly restricted to a few events (3 by my count), include bonuses for each minute “early” the event finishes. Some events (Crash victims and defend Repair Station come to mind) wouldn’t benefit from this as much, but others (Kill the Inquest Commander, Rescue the People in the Inquest Mine) certainly would.
Granted, this does nothing to fix the “dead space” issue, but it’s less potentially divisive, and much easier to implement than the first.
What am I Doing Here?
Anybody running into Dry Top the very first time has not the slightest clue what they’re doing. That’s to be expected. However, there is very little in game to help their understanding along. Consider these elements that are a must to properly understand and play Dry Top:
- When events spawn
- Where events spawn
- How to get to Uplands and Challenger Cliffs (not everyone has done Living Story)
- Where chests can spawn
- How favor matters
- The need to split into multiple groups to max out favor gains
That’s a lot, and the game does not help at all in helping you learn.
Worse, there are zonewide messages of when some important events spawn, especially in Sandstorm, but where those are is unclear. Sure, running around the zone will eventually yield the spawn location, but Dry Top terrain is complex and sometimes confusing. Add on aimless running, and it can rapidly go from challenging to frustrating.
Dry Top’s overall event flow cannot be explained quickly, unlike Silverwastes (Find a fort, defend and repair that fort until the bar on the right fills, then kill the boss in the hole). This cripples the newbie-to-veteran transition necessary to make a player-driven map successful and, more importantly, enjoyable.
Compared to Silverwastes…
Every single event is either at one of the four clearly marked forts, or within shouting distance of one. The lone exceptions are supply bulls, and they get their own icons. Further, spawn times are predictable: after the current event finishes. Also, the terrain is flat and easily read on the map.
Dry Top desperately needs clarity, and not the kind of clarity that requires pulling open Dulfy or the Wiki. Each of these fixes are aimed at doing that.
Fix #1: Tutorial NPCs
Add a tutorial NPC in each area of the map (Prospect Valley, Uplands, Challenger Cliffs). Each should talk about the timing (every 5 minutes in each area) as well as what events can spawn in that area. Another dialogue tree can go over what favor is used for (lowering geode costs / opening up additional recipes) and the changes that happen at Sandstorm (double geodes, buried chests appear).
Dry Top (and Silverwastes) act a lot like the WvW maps that have introduction NPCs to give people a solid overview of the map.
Fix #2: Warn of upcoming events
Part of the confusion of Dry Top’s event cadence is that many persist until completed. People stumble upon them 7-8 minutes after spawn and figure that they’re part of the wrong cycle (:05 instead of :00).
Steal a page from the content direction system and give a text notice to players within a map radius of the event’s location a minute out, perhaps adding a ping to the event’s center. People that otherwise might have stumbled off into a dead zone instead stick nearby long enough to be part of the event.
Over time, those same people will figure out the cadence and be able to get to locations without any notice. Maybe an option to turn them off (talk to a tutorial NPC!) would need to be added to prevent excessive text spam.
Fix #3: Improve the Existing Map Pings
The sandstorm text pings are really great if you already know where things spawn, but lost track of time. They’re terrible for people without the foggiest clue of where to go. Instead of simply saying “This big area with lots of terrain obstructions has an event!”, ping the event’s location to anyone within the overall area.
Dry Top rewards gained from geodes (and to an extent, from opening chests with lockpicks) are very spaced out. While there’s plenty of short term ones with bricks of clay, lockpicks, and some of the Mawdrey recipes, the price abruptly skyrockets for recipes of any flavor, reaching a peak of 425 geodes (T4 price) for Ambrite weapon recipes.
Ambrite weapons are the capstone achievement of the area, based on both the rare collection and the overall costs, but there is very little to signify progress toward it aside from an increasing geode count. That, and the weapons are dependent on either doing an sPvP track (which isn’t actually doing Dry Top), or being on the right side of RNG while opening buried chests.
Compared to Silverwastes…
Silverwastes has tangible rewards at all points of reaching its capstone goal of Luminescent Armor. Some of them (Mordrem organs) can even be turned around and used to fund later rewards (more extractors, more keys, etc.).
Further, carapace armor is a reward all its own that can be gained either by playing Silverwastes, or completing Living Story chapters (except boots and coats).
Most importantly, the RNG element of gaining Luminescent armor (extractors) is completely optional now.* A player can roll the dice for organs for cheap, or specifically get what they want for a little more.
*Well, there’s still coat boxes. I’ve gotten exactly three drops in 50+ Vinewrath runs, including the free achievement one.
All of these combine to allow a player working toward Luminescent to always feel like they are genuinely getting there because another item got checked off the list. It feels more rewarding than simply seeing a currency count go up.
Rewards spacing is where Silverwastes puts Dry Top to shame. This is most glaring with the complete lack of mid-term goals and the RNG nature of getting the capstone goal of the zone.
Fix #1: Add More Mid-term Goals to Dry Top
It can be argued that the cooking recipes are mid-term goals, but their appeal is very limited. Other items to signify progression in Dry Top, and hopefully help a player along to a full Ambrite weapon*, are needed. Visual progress matters, especially if it’s not simply contained in the amount of a currency.
*Though by the simplified structure of getting them (get a recipe, get an insect, add a pittance of crafting materials, done), that’s not likely.
Fix #2: Add Another Way to Get Fossilized Insects
RNG being a critical part of a unique, account-bound item is a terrible, no good, very bad thing. I made this point all the way back in The Gold Standard, and it still stands.
Getting an ambrite weapon already takes a hefty amount of dedication to Dry Top, so why is a major piece of it locked behind drop chances in a limited access chest?
Quite simply, there needs to be another way to get the insects. Here are a few possibilities:
- Selling an insect at T5/T6 for an amount of geodes equal to an Ambrite weapon recipe.
- Buried chests have a higher chance of dropping a fossilized fragment when a roll for a fossil has failed. Three of them combined with a new geode-costing item in the Mystic Forge renders a full unidentified fossil.
- Each of the Sandstorm champions drop a unique item. Getting all of them (via a collection) awards an unidentified fossil. Would need to be repeatable (don’t know if this tech exists).
Working at Cross Purposes
Sandstorm is a meta-event divided against itself. On the one hand, buried chests appear to be unlocked for the chance of some unique loot (and guaranteed other loot). They spawn all over the zone, and only a subset of over a hundred different locations are available.
On the other hand, completing Sandstorm events, which almost all involve bosses or timers (thus, take a while to complete), awards double geodes on completion.
Both are needed to get ambrite weapons, but attempting to do one assures that the other will be at least partly neglected. Do a lot of Sandstorm events and opening a lot of chests will be impossible. Try to find most of the chest locations and the events will have to go ignored. Do a middle of the road approach and it’ll likely be worst of both worlds.
This cripples both groups of players, those who want the increased geode gains, and those who want to get unidentified fossils and other loot, because they both have a limited period of time to get what they want and they’re functionally mutually exclusive.
Even worse, geode vendors completely lose their tier when Sandstorm ends. A player must quit whatever they were doing (events, finding chests) in time to pop over to a vendor and preserve the geode costs.
Compared to Silverwastes…
When the Breach is running, the best thing to be doing is participating in the Breach. When Vinewrath is up, the same follows. Even better, chests can be found and used at any time, including during the deliberate Time Out downtime following each Vinewrath completion.
Bandit crest vendors are available at all times, offering the same prices. Increasing crest rewards from Breach and Vinewrath performs the function of incentivizing successful completion of the map’s goals instead.
Mutually exclusive map goals on a player-driven map are terrible. While some of this can’t be avoided due to the nature of Dry Top (Brace yourselves…Sandstorm is coming), feeling like one is missing out because they chose Goal A instead of Goal B this hour can be avoided.
Fix #1: Create a Post-Sandstorm Buff
One letdown of the 40/20 meta of Dry Top is that the only incentive to stay on the map for another cycle is the possibility of having players who know what they’re doing still around.
So rip off Hero of the Wastes and give a buff that increases geodes gained from event completions for 20 minutes of the next meta (based on my play of the area, that’s roughly the point when there’s good T3 completion progress).
This buff should give half the tier achieved in the previous Sandstorm, rounded up (T1/T2 gives +1, T3/T4 gives +2), and is only gained by having completed at least one Sandstorm event or opening a buried chest during Sandstorm*.
*Can’t be having people zoning into a T4 map 2 minutes to the hour and running off with a freebie buff.
Fix #2: Let Vendor Options Persist for Buff Holders
Players with the buff should be allowed to see vendor options and costs from their achieved tier (which is part of the buff anyway). This removes the stop-having-fun of rushing to a vendor in the final seconds before Sandstorm concludes, as well as gives a further incentive to stick with the map.
Fix #3: Have the Map Ping When a Chest is Opened
A lesser-mentioned part of Silverwastes is that any lost bandit chest that gets dug up flashes a ping to anyone within map radius. This both helps players who don’t know the spawn location, and creates an incentive to go see what’s over there, possibly getting rid of some enemies on the way.
Do the same thing with buried chests in Dry Top. Rather than people who don’t have their pinky glued to Left Ctrl clueless as to where the chests even are, provide a little nudge via ping.
Fix #4: Sandstorm Event Completions Spawn a Chest
Any time a Sandstorm event is completed during Sandstorm, it should drop a buried chest. This allows a dedicated event runner the opportunity to still take advantage of buried chests without having to go running off and finding one.
Also, it doesn’t imbalance the existing limitations of buried chests, because there are very few Sandstorm events (compared to Crash Site). If needed, tie opening it to having event completion credit.
The Price of Failure
The heaviest knock on Dry Top is that failure is permanent to that run of the meta. If an event fails, or a bonus gets missed, or an event takes too long, then the favor bar will show that failure.
This hurts new players in the area, because oftentimes they don’t know where things are, what’s available to complete, or in some cases how to fulfill the bonus conditions. A well-meaning newbie can unintentionally screw over a bunch of veterans aiming for tiers 5 and 6.
In the process of this, newbies have a much harder time transitioning to veterans able to guide and teach the next newbies to the area. Someone doing their level best, unaware of the finer points, can be turned off by a veteran who rips them a new one in map chat. And technically, the veteran has a poorly worded point.
Compared to Silverwastes…
Even a failed fort defense is a temporary setback. Yes, Foothold will take longer to complete, but that’s nowhere near on the same level as an instance of Dry Top being fundamentally unable to reach a high tier.
Further, any failure in Silverwastes is a corporate failure. Copper doesn’t fail because one person failed to blow up bubbles before they reached the husk. It fails because many people failed to do it. Likewise, a fort defense doesn’t fall to pieces short of a total wipe of all defenders (and subsequent runback time).
Failure is an important part of games, and this is still true in player-driven maps. But permanent failure that can happen from ignorance should be avoided. Further, failure that in a perverse way encourages toxic comments has no place in a game that prides itself on its community.
Fix #1: Timer Fixes Above Can Help
The suggestions under Life on a Timer would address a lot of this problem, because failing events that aren’t covered will hurt less if groups can complete all events quickly, or gain bonus favor from finishing them early. Sure, getting the bonus from X event would’ve been nice, but failing it isn’t a showstopper.
Fix #2: Bonuses Should Be Bonuses
By my understanding, bonus objectives are a near-requirement for reaching the highest tiers. That subverts the definition of bonus. Bonuses should make up for failure elsewhere, or speed the rate of success. As such, tiers should be balanced assuming limited, if any, bonuses are achieved, making each of them truly a bonus.
When Dry Top first released, it was an amazing and new area that people visited in droves. Likewise for the ensuing episodes that revealed Uplands and Challenger Cliffs. But doing the episodes divorced from the initial introduction paints a different picture.
Lore-wise, what players do in Dry Top is much different from what they do in the corresponding Living Story episodes. Aside from Gates of Maguuma, Dry Top is a “required visit” zone that features a couple instances to showcase the new area while the majority of the action is far from Dry Top. Were it not for the Ley Line Hub and Taimi, Dry Top wouldn’t even be touched by Living Story during The Dragon’s Reach episodes.
Switching to rewards, all the achievements (and story completions) give are geodes, ambrite, lockpicks, and cactus. A grab bag of random resources that have no apparent purpose without spending a lot of time in Dry Top to start reaping the rewards they help with. There’s nothing to pique the interest.
Compared to Silverwastes…
Comparing the Living Story introduction and integration of Dry Top to Silverwastes is no contest: Silverwastes wins. While the Living Story relied on Far Silverwastes for some of the content, what a player does in each instance is directly related to the overall flow of Silverwastes: the Mordrem need to be cut down and ground must be gained.
Going further, the vast majority of the instances involved Silverwastes in some way, going so far as to put the entirety of Tangled Paths within the zone. A player would explore almost every nook of the Silverwastes just getting to the instances, and likely run into the mechanics of the place in the process.
And on the rewards angle, each episode awarded a piece of carapace armor, and the mastery achievement awarded an ascended trinket required for the long-term luminescent armor. A player completing any given episode would get an immediate ping on a collection, letting them know that there was more to gain out there if they had the interest.
Unfortunately, this poor integration I don’t think is directly fixable due to the nature of Living Story. But if new items are added as suggested under Disconnected Progress, replacing some of the endless piles of ambrite, cactus bits, and lockpicks with one of those would help going forward (and maybe send people with mastery achievements a piece so they don’t feel shorted).
Dry Top was a fairly good first shot at a player-driven map, but seeing it next to Silverwastes leaves no doubt to which is the more refined and accessible. But that doesn’t mean that things can’t be done to increase the appeal of the area and improve its overall flow. I’ve laid out numerous suggestions that should help with that aim.