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Sunqua Peak was the last well-made challenge mode, and here's why...

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With interesting and diverse mechanics, similar with phases (wind/fire/water/laser) but slightly changing as we go, Sunqua remains a highlight of fractals and daily play. It checks all the very important boxes that make it a well-designed encounter:

  1. Promotes build diversity: both condi and power builds can excel here, Sorrow demons can be killed via CC or damage, and a mix of ranged and melee builds is most effective
  2. Finely tuned mechanics: acting as they show on screen and within the established rules of GW2 combat, every attack is able to be dodged or blocked with the exception of specific those that are meant to be dealt with before they happen or avoided (fire phase and Sorrows)
  3. Interesting phases: even in a slower group that has to deal with every mechanic, the fight doesn't feel dull because it regularly changes the particular hazards while building on the same formula
  4. Rewards match effort: with the standard CM rewards of an ascended item and an integrated fractal matrix, the encounter is worth being run every day even for fractal gods that have no need for relics
  5. Positioning: all required movement is reasonable to do with normal (swiftness) speed, with advantages given to builds with movement skills and portals, but not requiring either. The majority of the time, there are safe places to stand next to the boss to allow melee builds to function
  6. (Stretch goal) Has its own story: Anet really went above and beyond with this CM design, letting us play the first 75% of the story in the normal mode and then completing it in the CM. This certainly isn't required for every CM, but a bit of extra dialog and consideration for how a CM could actually play into an instance's overall story (a tiny amount of extra dev work) really makes it feel polished

With the important aspects of what would be considered "successful" development, let's look at all of the CM encounters released after Sunqua Peak. I won't state a failing of objective #1 for any of these because that has simply gotten consistently worse to the point that it would need to be stated on almost every one.

  • Aetherblade Hideout: primarily fails #2, requiring rote memorization of where will be safe during the explosion and refutes the standard that a green circle is somewhere beneficial to go - you're screwed if you end up in a circle that isn't for "your group"
  • Xunlai Jade Junkyard: primarily fails #3 and #5 with a long slog of the same mechanics as well as beginning a strong trend of melee hate that grows worse with subsequent encounters
  • Kaineng Overlook: all EoD strikes have this issue, but KO fails #4 the worst - massive health pools make for a terribly long fight that just isn't worth it to play
  • Harvest Temple: an obvious issue with #5, to the point that it was a huge accomplishment for a group to complete it without portals
  • Old Lion's Court: a huge failing of #2, with backwards AoEs and breakbars that can ruin the entire encounter if done at the wrong time, along with a serious problem with #3 as the same watchknight mechanics appear unchanged throughout the fight, annoying you into submission as they overlap
  • Silent Surf: guaranteed damage in the afk phase that is to date Anet's greatest failing of #2 - dropping the principle that all major damage can be avoided with skilled play and forcing all players to simply sit there and take it, along with serious issues in #3 with the only phase difference being a loss of any illusion of not going afk during the numbers phase
  • Cosmic Observatory: fails #3 and #5 the worst, with constant spreading and melee hate leaving half the fight labeled "wait to dps"
  • Temple of Febe: failure across the board with ToF's title(s) being more of a meme than an accomplishment, ranged condi dps with portals being required making condi virt the only viable dps, simply laughable compared to well-designed encounters
  • Lonely Tower: untested and unfinished, we can hope it won't be as much of a failure after receiving some updates. An obvious failure of #2 and #3 with the entire fight being a slog of the same annoying mechanics that don't fully work, affect areas outside their indicators (especially arrows), and easily end up RNG-dependent

So many of these fights have such needless spamming of mechanics, as if their devs watched an inexperienced group fight Arkk and thought that would be fun to recreate - without realizing that the key point of Arkk is that learning all his mechanics teaches you the safe places to stand even as they begin to overlap. Let's compare these with the later raids:

  • Dhuum: great opportunities for both ranged and melee, reasons to have both power and condi, specialized roles that can be played with a variety of classes, CM adds the need for bonus situational awareness and increased pressure with protecting the reapers, but doesn't hurt build diversity at all
  • Qadim 1: group and solo/mini group play that any build can participate in, rewards portals but doesn't require them, CM punishes falling as well as adding AoEs that again require more situational awareness without hurting the overall encounter design
  • Qadim 2: ranged and teleporting builds fill an important role and melee heavy hitting builds are also quite important, breakbar damage plays a key role, CM adds to the lava mechanic in a way that can be either dangerous when activated accidentally or even useful when activated purposefully - a huge success for mechanic design

Should we be excited for a new raid? Ideally, yes. Based on these trends, especially the fact that the devs consider ToF CM/LCM a success (based fully on hours sunk into it rather than actual enjoyment or quality of design), it's not looking good. We got updates to every profession to make every profession capable of being a healer, quick, alac, power dps, and condi dps, while every new release of endgame content has methodically reduced the build diversity pool to a dismally low level. We can hope new content learns from the shortcomings of the latest releases, but it has been trending worse and worse.

TL;DR: Build diversity and dynamic encounter design in endgame content have been going downhill for some time, but the game has examples of content made very well. It has potential if these examples are followed.

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17 hours ago, Aaron Forestman.4758 said:

[...]I won't state a failing of objective #1 for any of these because that has simply gotten consistently worse to the point that it would need to be stated on almost every one.[...]

While I basicly agree with pretty much everything you wrote, I'd like to emphasize this single point. I have no problem with cVirt being a potent not-so-hard-to-play build, but designing fights that favor ranged DPS to a point where cVirt becomes pertty much the only reasonable pick is just bleh.

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Yeah, I really like the old CMs and Sunqua especially.  Silent Surf is okay, but I wouldn't call it particularly fun or interesting and I lack the experience to comment on the latest fractal CM, but first impression is not good.  I definitely like the older style of multi-phase encounters, Shattered Observatory and Sunqua in particular.  These last two fractals just seem to repeat the same mechanics over and over with a rather uninspired phase at X%.

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