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Columns: (Dry) Top of the Heap

By Jason Winter on October 20, 2014

(Dry) Top of the Heap

In ArenaNet's last Points of Interest, the crew talked a lot about Dry Top and how its general design is the direction Guild Wars 2 zones might go in the future. “If you like the stuff in Dry Top, you're in luck,” said Living World Principal Content Designer Teddy Nguyen. “We always look at previous releases to see what worked and what didn't work. It's always a process of zeroing in on what you guys really want. It's one of our more successful maps in terms of, well, everything.”


From a gameplay perspective, I couldn't agree more. I make that distinction not because there's anything wrong with the story or art direction, but because we have story and art in other zones, as well. The way Dry Top plays, however, is different from every other zone in the game. From the way the events are structured, to how a communal sense of play is required for the best rewards (which is  “probably something you'll see more of,” Nguyen said), to the verticality of the playspace, Dry Top is probably my favorite zone in the game.

I think there are a few ways it can be improved, though, especially if it's going to serve as the template for new zones going forward. ArenaNet seems on board with this, and that's good news for Dry Top lovers like me.

Size matters... maybe

I've sort of waffled on what I think of Dry Top's size. It unquestionably covers less square mileage than other zones – about a quarter of its neighboring Brisban Wildlands, for instance – but the vertical nature of the zone and its lack of wide-openness tends to mask that. Also, it doesn't lack for events, which are the real reason you spend time in a zone. Not having to devote space to hearts helps you squeeze more of the interesting content in, I suppose.

At the end of the day, if you can have, say, 25 events in a zone, do you want them spread out over a large area or squeezed into a smaller one? The latter probably makes things a bit easier on designers, who have less overall space that they need to create, but having all the events in such a compact space seems a little artificial.

Future zones aren't likely to have Zephyrite crystals scattered around for us to use to reach otherwise inaccessible areas, and they probably won't all be set up with semi-linear canyons that direct you around in a set way. Still, I hope at least a few of them can provide some kind of “exploration theme” across the whole zone, something more than the typical “here's a flat grassland with some hills” that most MMO zones have.

Then again, if there are “complicated” zones like Dry Top and “simple” zones like most of the others, which one will players really spend more time in? The interesting ones or the ones where they can farm loot the fastest?

Heavy meta

The only thing I think Dry Top really lacks is a large, signature meta-event. I like how the individual events build up the area's Favor of the Zephyrites, but that's what they are: individual. There's no big chain pulling it all together, or even just to offer something more than hopping around the map, putting out individual fires.

Maybe the thought was that the Living Story would provide that “additional” content, or that, with the 40-minute clock on “normal events,” followed by 20 minutes of “sandstorm events,” there wasn't enough time to cram in something else. That's fine, but if there are a lot of Dry Top-like zones on the way, it would help for there to be a few big fights to spice things up a bit. Perhaps those could also be linked to how far players progress in filling up the zone's progress meter: “Get to rank 4 to spawn the Megaboss”?

“No”s to the grind-zone

All that being said, though, Dry Top is just one zone. People still farm Cursed Shore and the Frostgorge champ train, but other than those two, is there any zone you tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time in? Did you spend weeks going through Diessa Plateau or Fields of Ruin? Probably not.

Now, three-plus months after its debut, Dry Top does feel a little “old.” I suppose that's inevitable; after you've gobbled up all the geodes and ambrite you need, there's really not much reason to stick around. That's going to be the case with any zone, unless it provides something that you'll always need, like gold and high-tier crafting mats. And if there are a bunch of zones like that, people will gravitate toward the one(s) that provide it the most easily.

So if there are a bunch of new Dry Top-like zones coming in the maybe-or-maybe-not-expansion, how can they be constructed so they a) aren't something we whip through in a few hours, never to be seen again; but b) not seem like a burdensome grind or mindless train? Will just having more new zones, as opposed to the one we have now, help to keep us busy, especially if they all have a Dry Top-like mechanic to make it last a bit longer? Or would 10 Dry Tops make everything seem to take too long? I don't want to zip through a zone and then not care about it ever again, but I also don't know that I want to feel like I need to spend a month in every zone to get everything I need out of it. It's a tough call, and one that I'm not sure I know how to address.

I'm on board with the Dry Top design and hoping we'll see something more like it in future zones, with a few tweaks to make things even more fun. What's on your wish list for future zones? Do you like the way Dry Top is set up, or would you rather do something completely different?