A lot has been said about the newest addition to Guild Wars 2, Fractals, and I want to start out by pointing out a few great things about Fractals. One, they are great end-game content for people who love challenging raid-like content. The never ending, ever scaling difficulty is fantastic for people who love a challenge. The instances themselves are fairly short, and each has unique mechanics that offer people different challenges that are more than “kill mobs, loot bodies”. The fractals being small instances that fall largely outside of the known lore, allows the designers to add new instances, with new mechanics whenever they want, thus, expanding the end-game, with little resources expended. These unique mechanics also allow for more social interaction between players, and necessitate more use of voice chats; allowing more people to make friendships and build community.
This being said, they are a huge problem. The ever scaling nature of these dungeons and the inclusion of ascended items and agony will in the long term split the community. In order to get the best rewards you generally must do between 4 and 7 fractals in a row, in order to encounter the special instanced boss and daily bonus chest, and get more fractal relics. While an individual fractal instance is short, a set of 3 usually takes about an hour. This is as long or longer than most dungeon runs. If you want to progress in fractals, you might as well do 7 in a row, which can quickly push over 2 hours. This is a lot of time for more casual gamers, and is going to discourage many of these gamers from playing them.
Second is Agony, which does not kick in until level 10. Casual gamers who want a challenge but may not have time to invest in grinding agony protection can stay below this cap and enjoy fractals without having to worry about it. But this is where the problem lies. If these causal gamers want to play with their friends who are more invested in Fractals, their friends will either have to play at a lower level, and not be getting as much reward, or the lower level players will be forced to play on levels with agony, for which they are not prepared.
The upcoming patch to Fractals will reward players who scale down to play with others with a Karma reward, but they will not be receiving their full reward. According to the recent blog by Isaiah Cartwright: “Rewards from the fractal will be based on players’ personal reward level as long as the reward level is equal to or lower than the chosen fractal level.” This means if you are a level 2 Fractal player, and run a level 20 Fractal with your friends, you will get level 2 rewards, even though you have just completed content that is level 20 difficulty.
This will result in casual players who do not grind Fractals being unable to survive in Fractals due to agony, and will lead to a massive split in the community between those who have agony resistance, and those who do not. Right now we see people looking for fractals of a certain level, and we are already seeing groups looking for level 10+, 20+, etc. and this patch is not going to help. More and more, casual gamers who do not have agony resistance will be left behind, and will have a hard time catching up. Having low agony resistance will have the potential to make you an active hindrance to your group, making them chose between sacrificing their rewards to help you increase your fractal level or refusing to group with you all together because you will be too weak.