It's the last day of December and I have just over eight hours left to finish my Monthly. All I need are two Fractals.
Yes, I finally got my teeth gritted, my loins girded and stood in the Grand Plaza yelling "LFG Fractals 1!". 10 seconds later I had a group. I introduced myself.
"Hi! I've never done one of these before".
"Neither have I"
My first toe dipped in the GW2 Dungeon pool and I find myself splashing around with a full group of Fractal Virgins. Moreover, not only had no-one ever done a Fractal before, not one of us had more than the vaguest idea how they worked. No-one had even watched a YouTube video or read a guide. Perfect!
We muddled through. When we ran into something we didn't understand we talked to each other, offered suggestions and experimented. We worked out what we needed to do as we went along and while we died quite a lot, we got there in the end. No-one got angry or disheartened, no-one ragequit as we wiped yet again. No-one even mentioned that one of us was only level 40 and spent most of the time dead.
It took over two hours but in the end we completed all three fractals put in front of us. I now have one character qualified to run Level 2. Which she duly did a couple of nights later. This time the group was more experienced and if anything chattier and better-natured even than the first. Naturally, things didn't go as well.
The second group struggled through the first two fractals, could not finish the third and had to give up. That fractal was the same one the first group of complete novices got as their opener and they got through it, so experience clearly isn't everything. DPS is, at least for that one, and we didn't have it, especially not after someone bailed. We tried it once more with just the four of us but it was never going to happen. We agreed to call it a day and I returned to Lion's Arch still licensed only up to Level 2.
The fractal dungeons themselves are beautifully designed. Visually and aesthetically, like everything in GW2, they are true works of art. I would love to be able to stroll round them in my own time an appreciate them fully, without swarms of mobs trying to rip my head off. There seems to be some kind of thin, overarching narrative based on Asura Anthropology and each fractal has its own storyline as well. Hard to follow or appreciate either when you never stop fighting, jumping, running, dodging or falling.
I found the gameplay challenging, to use a popular euphemism. In plain English I found it annoying, irritating, fiddly, irksome and downright infuriating. Rarely did I find it fun. A lot of the concepts are great - running down a tunnel with a giant flaming boulder chasing you, smashing the chains binding a 500 foot high giant to a mountain, following mysterious footsteps through a blinding blizzard - great to watch in a movie, not so much fun to replicate through keyboard and mouse.
The best bits were when I could stop and look around - some of the scenery is breathtaking - and the fighting. I like fighting in MMOs. I like playing my character and using my character's abilities and at least I was mostly allowed to do that as I saw fit. We had some very fun fights. I would personally prefer none of the gimmicks and tricks, just the nice scenery with some tough things living in it who resent a bunch of adventurers coming in to take their stuff.
One more run this evening, even if it partially fails, should see my monthly completed. I'm quite glad to have had the spur to go take a look but I can't imagine running these things often, either for fun or profit. Just about anything else I've done in Tyria has been more entertaining. Well, not Orr, obviously. Or some of the Personal Story.
OK, fractals aren't that bad. I did quite enjoy them, in a masochistic kind of way. I certainly appreciate the way that doing them and the Tixx dungeons has bump-started my dormant PUG powers. Not only did my old LFG skills come flooding back but I even found I could still start, recruit and run a PUG. From a social perspective the whole experience was so much better than I'd come to expect from other MMOs of late that it really does put me in mind to do more just for the half-forgotten pleasure of meeting new people and sharing new experiences.
All the same, I didn't come to GW2 looking for dungeon-based pick-up-group gameplay. I still think it goes against the grain of the all-tag-on open world we were sold. Fractals may be a big improvement on the first iteration of dungeons but they are still isolated and isolating instances that remove players from the world. No matter how well it may be done that's not a direction in which I want to see the game go.
Let's hope that the promised addition of fractal gear to other parts of the world puts dungeons back in the special interest box and returns focus to the shared world outside.