While Guild Wars 2’s Cantha-centric End of Dragons expansion may not be coming until next year, players eager to visit The Empire of the Dragon can get a taste of things to come with the new fractal of the mist, Sunqua Peak. You could be forgiven for forgetting about this fractal’s announcement during the anniversary live stream, given that ArenaNet dropped the expansion teaser bomb on us just moments later. Fractals are a big deal to a lot of players, and they have been coming with increasing scarcity, so I’m sure many of Tyria’s citizens will be eagerly awaiting the challenge of a new fractal.
Players will be guided by Dessa to help The Spirit of the Mountain (who bears a striking resemblance to the Primal Spirit jackal skin) restore balance to the elements on Sunqua Peak, a name which original Guild Wars players will know well from the Sunqua Vale region of Cantha from the Factions campaign. The spirit is a memorable character, who seems to be unused to the role of fulfilling mortals’ expectation of a powerful and elegant mountain spirit, and is constantly mixing up its words.
The fractal opens with a short jumping puzzle with lightning strikes that spawn orbs that allow players to jump higher (similar to the Zephyrite Aspect of Wind, except that this version actually enhances the player’s regular jump, so their regular weapon skills remain intact). The more orbs players collect, the higher they will be able to jump. If you or someone you play fractals with is notoriously bad at jumping puzzles, don’t worry; once one player reaches the end, the floating rocks rearrange themselves into a nice, neat staircase that the rest of the party can simply walk upon.
Next, players will be greeted by the first miniboss, an air elemental. Most of the fight is pretty standard fractal fare, with projectiles flying at the players in patterns that must be learned and dodged. At a certain point in the fight, though, the boss turns into a tornado, and players must grab the air orbs introduced earlier in the fractal to jump up and disrupt the elemental at certain points, whose ground locations are marked with a red arrow.
Game designer Cameron Rich talked a lot about how the fractal teaches players new mechanics, then requires them to be performed to beat the minibosses, then, the final boss tests players on all of those mechanics. Once players have mastered these mechanics on tier 1, the higher tiers and challenge mote will add even more deadly, challenging mechanics. This teaching and testing structure is something I’ve always appreciated about Guild Wars 2’s instance design. A lot of games sort of stumble into this approach, but ArenaNet is always very methodical about it.
Another interesting new mechanic comes during the fight with the fire elemental, which takes the form of a large, burning tiger. At certain phases, concentric circle telegraphs will appear. While this attack is charging up, a second AoE will briefly follow two randomly selected players, and, when this AoE is up, meteors will fall from the sky in the marked locations. Players must scramble to either get as far away from the center of the concentric rings as possible, or take shelter behind these meteors to avoid massive damage.
The final encounter of this fractal is an elementalist known as Sorrowful Spellcaster. She is a powerful elementalist, driven mad by grief, that has apparently been the reason for the imbalance among the four elements. Players will be tested on all of the mechanics that were introduced throughout this fractal, as she shifts between the elements and puts her own, unique spins on the mechanics introduced by the prior minibosses. As with many recent Guild Wars 2 encounters, strong coordination of crowd control is key to beating the Spellcaster, and failure to break her defiance bar can be deadly.
If you get to the end of this fight and feel like you still have questions about the story fractal’s, that is somewhat intentional. Players can learn more about the backstory of this fractal by searching for hidden notes, and activating the challenge mote on the higher tiers will reveal an additional, more complete ending.
Rich also talked about how he and the other designers were hoping to shake up the builds that players bring into this fractal, as it includes a lot of conditions that will need to be cleansed, CC that will need to be mitigated with stability, and movement-based mechanics that will make swiftness extremely useful. Support classes and healers that can do all of these things will be in high demand for this fractal.
Of course, what would a new fractal be without new rewards? Completing any challenge mode fractal — so, not just Sunqua Peak, but also Nightmare and Shattered Observatory — on challenge mode will reward players with Unstable Fractal Essences. These can be turned in for the new Abyssal Fractal weapon skins, which are a dark, purple-and-black recolor of the original Fractal set, with some spiffy new trail effects. Also keep an eye out for the new Abyssal Infusion and the Endless Inner Demon Combat Tonic, which will rarely drop from the final boss chest of Sunqua Peak, or can be purchased using the new Unstable Fractal Essence.
Fractal players will recall that Shattered Observatory already rewarded a currency called Unstable Cosmic Essence, which was used to purchase rewards from that fractal. Starting today, the Shattered Observatory rewards will also be purchasable with Unstable Fractal Essence, and any cosmic essence you have lying around will be convertible to the new currency. So, if you’re chasing any of these rewards, you will now have more flexibility of what content you do to earn essence.
ArenaNet also pointed us to a newly added set of repeatable achievements. These achievements will reward players two gold and a reward chest for completing a certain number of unique fractals within a given tier, and as well as a metachievement for completing these achievements in all four tiers. ArenaNet’s hope is that this will encourage veteran players to help newbies through the process of fractal progression.
Over in the raid category, there is a similar new weekly achievement, called Top-Tier Terror Toppler. This alliterative achievement was added because ArenaNet heard feedback that Challenge Mode raids were only really rewarding the first time a player completed it, meaning that guilds weren’t really incentivized to help new raiders through these tricky challenges. For completing five unique challenge mode raid encounters in a week, players will be rewarded with ten gold and a chest of goodies.
Something else worth nothing about the Sunqua Peak fractal is that, unlike recent Icebrood Saga episodes, the dialogue in the instance is fully voiced. ArenaNet has begun to work with the game’s voice talent to find ways to safely get their lines recorded for the game, though it was unable to give a timeline for when voiceover for previous content will be patched in. Still, it’s refreshing to be able to hear characters’ voices again rather than scrambling to read text dialogue while simultaneously trying not to die!
Fractal players have felt a little neglected in recent years, with ArenaNet focusing much of its efforts on raids and strike missions, but hopefully the addition of Sunqua Peak and rewarding achievements will help fractal players feel that they are still supported. I had a lot of fun running this new fractal, and I know you all will as well. It was a tantalizing taste of what we will be getting next yet with Cantha, and the scenery is some of the most gorgeous in recent memory, and the fun new mechanics.