With the Guild Wars 2 Fractals update, there is also a bit of the Living World going on. The first time players enter the Mistlock Observatory (fractals hub) they get to go in to story mode to experience the new Thaumanova fractal. It’s story mode because Kiel attempts to commandeer Mistlock Observatory and make Dessa use the technology to figure things out. Story spoilers abound beyond.
The fractal itself, even though I have only done story mode, is well-designed. It’s a big puzzle that is mostly combat light. The goal is to cool down or shut off the Thaumanova reactor, which is being invaded by Scarlet’s (proto-?) armies. The end boss is an anomaly, which appears to be a godlike energy being. The fight is all about keeping as much of the disappearing platform available as possible as players get hit with the energy and cause the platforms beneath their feet to disappear for a short time. Spreading out is the key tactic. I think I will enjoy it as part of the Fractals lineup.
However, as far as the story instance goes… it was a mess. I will give a nod to the pain caused by a bug, which prevented wiped parties from reviving, but only a quick one because this bug has been fixed. Otherwise, it was really tough to get pieces of the story. Here we are in a puzzle dungeon that we’ve never played before, and story dialogue is happening while we are racking our brains with in-game mechanics. Who knows how much conversation I missed.
Then players seem to have been able to complete puzzle portions on their own (good in an actual Fractal) causing me again to lose context and perspective, especially when I am face-planted somewhere else. Finally, I see Scarlet at a control panel. Was she there the whole time? When did she come in? She starts talking but we are trying to fight a puzzle or enemy again. It was ironic that at least 3/5 players in the party were parents that had kids arguing in the background during our time in the story instance because that was how it felt. There was too much to pay attention to, and unfortunately the thing I wanted to pay attention to was lost in the fuzz. Jeromai already gives a kind of real-time writing of his similar experience.
I am kind of surprised that ArenaNet didn’t utilize their party scaling technology just for the story instance. Sure a puzzle or two would have to be reconfigured to be solo’d or duo’d, but the same story presentation would have been better. Alternatively, it would have been nice to have a cutscene in the story instance (not actual fractal dungeon) to pause and get the Scarlet thing all together. I am grateful for the valiant efforts of the wiki community to record these bits of all the gray text and speech I missed. The other thing is that I made sure to do the story instance last night because I cannot imagine people getting a group for it next week.
Lorewise, I am liking Scarlet more and more as her goals are skittishly moving out of the shadows. It feels like it’s about manipulating energies. Every one of her armies has a distinct energy created from often-times a strange amalgamation. Scarlet is super colliding Tyria trying to find something. Not knowing that “something” is hard. I hope that after Scarlet ArenaNet tries to be much less clever in their approach. It’s cool to get that “ah-ha” moment when it all comes together, but keeping the audience’s attention to that point, getting them to come to it, and making it more worthwhile than all the confusion is tough. ArenaNet likes to walk the hard roads.
Speaking of “ah-ha” moments, the one with Dessa was quite an amazing and obvious discovery. Basically, the Mistlock Observatory is itself a fractal. All its denizens are themselves locked in time. This is why Dessa is brand-new each time the fractals are entered, and it is why she can’t go to Lion’s Arch. She might not exist anymore. That was a very cool moment for the players that stuck out the entire story instance (we had two people rage quit before Kiel and Dessa finished speaking because one person didn’t get the Thaumanova fractal achievement).
After months of getting fairly polished updates, this feels like a little splash of unwanted winter water. Even with Fractals getting quite a nice long-term jump there are still issues all over the place. Dredge is still too long. Mai Trin becomes unbeatable at Fractal level 37. Something something Colossus. Then this update is coupled with a weird advertising campaign. I personally thought the Tyrian Cab Driver bits were pretty humorous, but the whole taking an oath thing… “cringe” was the word thrown around by Guild Wars 2 fans quite a bit in response. It just gives the feeling of shaky ground. Perhaps I am a bit feeling salty too since our WvW week got off to a horrible start since supposedly half of our WvW population was off playing Elder Scrolls Online.
Given the initial reactions, I really do like Fractals, and of course the bi-week focus is now on it. I am excited to play a bit of this dungeon over the T-day weekend. For those out in the Lion’s Arch cold, in two weeks we’ll have the wintery glee of Wintersday that will wash down this fractal’d little pill like a spiked egg nog.