We were invited to attend a conference call with Game Director Colin Johanson and content designer Anthony Ordon, where they gave us some insight into the design behind the new Fractals, the updated reward structure, and where FotM will head from here.
A "dungeon diver's dream"
The call began with an explanation of the philosophy behind FotM's design: ArenaNet wanted to create a style of dungeon that would appeal to hardcore dungeon fans and be difficult to exhaust. Traditional dungeons get stale after a while, Johanson feels, because eventually a player learns all he'll ever need to know about running a particular encounter. Fractals were designed as a way to introduce harder challenges as players get used to the difficulty level.
The challenge topped out far sooner than intended, however. Because the major changes to higher-level Fractals involved buffing enemy health and damage, eventually it didn't matter whether mobs had gotten stronger from level to level because they were already capable of one-shotting players. Larger health pools simply weren't very interesting, either.
This led to the creation of a new mechanic called Mistlock Instabilities, which will begin after Fractal level 30 and toss unique variables into existing runs. Players who enjoyed the gambit mechanic in Queen's Gauntlet during August's Queen's Jubilee release will recognize the basic idea behind Mistlock Instabilities; at their core, they're special conditions that the level must be run under. Potential instabilities might include negation of certain damage or conditions -- or even more dynamic event-like surprises such as Swampland Fractal's Mossman leaving his own time to stalk players throughout their travels in other Fractals. Spooky! According to Ordon, ArenaNet has almost 100 instabilities planned out for future levels, although 50 will be the maximum Fractal level as of this release. Each of the instabilities is tied to a particular level in order to allow players to learn them as they go.
ArenaNet is re-examining the game for 2014, Johanson said, and finding ways in which content can be made more accessible to a greater number of players. In order to accomplish that, the team will rebalance the beginning FotM experience so that higher levels are more difficult (and more rewarding) but introductory levels will do a better job of easing new players in. The plan is to provide more skill-based prestige rewards over time for players who are very dedicated to running Fractals and playing them at the highest levels, and the Fractured release kicks that off with new runes and sigils, a rare transformation tonic and more user-friendly Fractal weapon skins.
One of ArenaNet's major goals for Fractals of the Mists is to continue to expand it, and the studio has developed new tools to allow Fractal content to be designed more quickly and easily. In the future, ArenaNet hopes to add more and more Fractal scenarios from the studio's whiteboard full of potential ideas. Important stories can be told through Fractals, and the content style also allows popular temporary living world content such as the Aetherblade Retreat and Molten Weapons Facility dungeons to be preserved for players to enjoy.
In order to re-introduce Fractals of the Mists to the playerbase, ANet will ensure that the Fractured release includes a story mode version of the dungeon that will give players a definite opportunity to experience each scenario at least once before the normal explorable mode leaves it up to random chance. Players will join Cutthroat Politics election victor Ellen Kiel in a trip through the Mists to the Thaumanova Reactor meltdown, for which she funded the research as part of her campaign promises. The story mode will be available for the duration of the release.
The Molten Alliance and Aetherblade Fractals were added by splitting each of them into two parts: The regular Fractals comprise the first part of the event dungeons, while the final bosses of each will join the Jade Maw as potential boss Fractals to be drawn at the end of a set. The Thaumanova Reactor Fractal will differ slightly from current Fractals in that it provides more of an opportunity for exploration. Lore-hounds, prepare your sniffing apparati.
Will we ever find out what might have happened in the Abaddon Fractal had Evon Gnashblade won the election? Maybe, Johanson said, although it will likely be far in the future. ArenaNet doesn't want Abaddon's lore to go unexplored, but at the same time it's necessary to preserve the integrity of the players' choice. We were asked to throw out some ideas for Fractals we'd like to see as well -- suggestions from the media and fansites included Grenth's battle with Dhuum and a recreation of Prince Rurik's pilgrimage through the Shiverpeaks from the original Guild Wars. When asked whether ArenaNet had considered sneaking in unannounced Fractal content to surprise players, the developers joked that they'd like to add something similar to the infamous cow level that would pop up extremely rarely in the Fractal rotation.
We'd like to thank Colin and Anthony for taking the time to speak with us. The Fractured update will go live today, so be sure to check out the official release page and Massively's coverage for all of the details!
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