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Guild Wars 2 Previews: Exploring the Fractals

By William Murphy on November 15, 2012

We’ve had the pleasure of previewing Guild Wars 2’s upcoming Lost Shores content the past few days, and Som and I have each taken different parts for a spin.  Now, in the interest of not spoiling the event that begins tomorrow (11/16) at Noon PST, we won’t touch on the lore surrounding the actual open world event.  Other sites might, but suffice it to say… you’ll want to play this weekend to experience it all, just like Halloween.  Instead, Som and I will talk about two of the biggest new additions to the game’s content: the Fractals of the Mists dungeons, and the new Temple of the Silent Storm PVP map. I'll cover the Fractals here, and Som's PVP thoughts will be coming a bit later.  Read on!

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THE FRACTAL SETUP

The Fractals of the Mists is a bit like ArenaNet’s “lesson learned” from the dungeons GW2 launched with.  There is no “explorable mode” or “story mode”: there is only “The Fractals”.  Essentially, the Asura have figured out a way to teleport people into different parts of the Mists (the fabric of time and space that holds Tyria together).  For the glory of research (and loot of course), players of any level can enter the Fractals and take part in a series of nine mini dungeons that are cycled at random and become more difficult as you progress.  Though you can enter at any level, the intended design is for level 80 players.  Loot scales for your level appropriately, as it does in WvW, so level 2 players shouldn’t expect to find any Ascended loot while doing the Fractals until they’re level 80. 

If you successfully complete three of the Fractals, you get to come back to the hub and rest, repair, sell stuff.  As you move onto the next set of three mini-dungeons, the difficulty is raised.  If you beat that group of three, you get to face off against the Fractals’ main boss: The Jade Maw (a massive kraken looking thing that will kill you a few times before you can down it).  All of this is for the progress of knowledge in the Mists for all of Tyria (from a lore perspective), but for players it’s going to be about the achievements, the loot, and the chance of getting some of the Ascended gear.

You enter the main “Hub” of the dungeon where the teleporter, some dungeon specific vendors, and repairs can be made.  Once you’re prepared, you jump into the center of the teleporter and off you’re whisked to the first of many mini-dungeons.  In our playtest, we started with an entirely underwater scenario that had us holding onto a light and swimming as fast as we could through darkness lest we be devoured by what lurks beneath the water.  Ultimately the fractal culminated in a boss fight with a giant monstrous jellyfish, which also dropped a good bit of loot.  That’s one of the beauties of the Fractals: even if you can’t complete more than one or two, you’ll still get some loot.  And the Ascended gear has a chance to drop in each one, not just the Jade Maw boss that comes after the completion of six Fractals.

Our second Fractal took place in a swamp where we had to first avoid some nasty booby-traps and bring wisps back to their proper places from across the swamp in order to unlock the way forward.  It was very difficult and will require a good bit of coordination to complete as there’s a timer involved, lots of encroaching mobs, and even the Mossman himself (an epically powerful Norn who lives in the swamp).  If you manage to solve the puzzle, you’ll open up the path and have access to one of two boss encounters.  We fought the Mossman, who is definitely no slouch.  He summons wolves, goes invisible, and hits very hard.

Our third Fractal took place inside of a Grawl volcanic lair where had to rescue captured villagers before they were sacrificed, fight enraged shamans, and much more.  Our journey to the center of the earth was cut short though as the developers wanted to make sure we saw the Fractals’ main boss: The Jade Maw.  As all late-game bosses, the Jade Maw takes up almost an island to itself, and can be seen from very far away as you make your way across the Jade Ocean.  Once you’re upon him, you’ll have to fight off his tentacles, summoned jade elemental adds, and his death-inducing laser eye to defeat him. 

The laser will down you with a single hit, so don’t expect to survive this dungeon unscathed.  But the trick is to find the refracting crystals strewn about the area, and keep them near you at all times.  If the Maw’s laser is aimed at you, you’ll briefly see a skull above your head and that’s your cue to pick up the crystal which will store the laser’s energy.  What do you do with it then?  Target the Maw’s head of course and chuck the supercharged crystal at it to deal “MASSIVE DAMAGE!”

THE JUST REWARDS

The beauty of all this? Dungeons are famously hard in GW2, and rightfully so. But the Fractals are designed so that your first three mini-dungeons will be somewhat easy… almost inviting.  It’s still no pushover, but chances are if you found other dungeon content too frustrating, you won’t find your first three fractals as bad.  But as you progress, it gets harder and harder.  Our press group was able to drop the Maw without the devs cheating, and with little more instruction than what to do with the crystals. The second run-through would have been a different story, and since the dungeon won’t reset for a week, if you beat the Maw once, the difficulty will remain boosted for the week.  You might ask: “What’s the point of doing it when it’s harder and harder? Why not wait for the reset?” And you could.  But when the difficulty is raised, so too are the rewards.  Loot drops are better and you get more Fractal currency to put towards the back-slot Ascended item and plenty of other goodies that ArenaNet will be adding to over time.  In fact, I would likely expect them to add more fractals over time too, as the lore and setup is practically screaming for more scenarios to choose at random. 

The only improvement I would like to see added to this “progressively difficult” dungeon series is for players to be able to set their difficulty upon entering.  If there’s a really talented group going into the place, it would be great if they could set their challenge themselves.  By far, The Fractals of the Mists is going to be my favorite dungeon when it launches this weekend.  It’s set up to be digestible in small or large bits, with intended breaks all along the way, and great loot to boot.  It’s a step back from the more story oriented earlier dungeons, but in terms of playability its scaling difficulty and approachable “compartmented” design work really well together.  Its entrance is also situated right in Lion’s Arch, so it’ll likely be quite easy to find a group.  I just hope it doesn’t make find one for the other dungeons a chore (though it undoubtedly will).

Sharpen your axes folks: The Fractals of the Mists is going to be a fun time. Just… don’t get frustrated when you get the swamp dungeon. It sucks until you know the layout.  But once you do, it gets easier.  Fair warning and all that.  And beware the trip-lines.  Do the Fractals sound like an improvement over GW2’s earlier dungeons? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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