Flameseeker Chronicles: Big changes

Guild Wars Beyond
The last chapter of Guild Wars Beyond's Winds of Change was released just a handful of days ago, bringing nine new quests, fancy weapons, fresh rewards, and a heaping helping of story to the land of Cantha, not to mention a significant update to the way ArenaNet is telling the tale.

Miku's Tale in particular boasts a few distinct differences from earlier parts of this storyline -- largely, the consensus seems to be, for the better. There was a fair bit of griping after the first portion of Winds of Change went live and a widespread agreement that something was not quite right about the way the quests at the start of Winds of Change were being handled. ArenaNet responded to this with promises to go back and retune quests, mostly in response to the argument that mobs were too hard. While I certainly understand a fiendish level of mob difficulty acting as an intimidating gateway to players less comfortable with fighting in Guild Wars, I don't think it was really the heart of the problem with the earlier Winds of Change content.

Most Guild Wars players of a certain familiarity with the game are up for a challenge; we do speed books and speed clears to get warmed up for the day and eat Mursaat for breakfast. What was problematic with some of the original Winds of Change quests wasn't difficulty but rather the repetition. When you're faced with a dozen quests that amount to going to a certain area and reducing as many foes as possible to a charred, bleeding mass as quickly as possible, with only the occasional "yes, and keep so-and-so alive" to relieve the monotony, what you really need isn't just easier mobs. Happily, what you really need is pretty much what's delivered in the last chapter of Winds of Change.

The quests, which describe the final act of momentous events in Cantha, have a great deal more variety than was found in the early portion of Winds of Change. Finding Jinnai is still something of a war of attrition, but it's got a lot more positional gameplay to it in that rather than just finding the most apt meatshield to hide behind, we're actively running through the environment and looking for key areas. Calling All Thugs reminds us that not all quests have to be about combat -- and not all non-combat quests have to be boring blocks of dialogue or mindless fetch-and-carry quests. That quest in particular brought back some of the light-heartedness that is so endearing throughout the game. Seeing all of our old villainous chums represented under one roof (despite whatever [ultimately legitimate] quibbles one might have over the strength of the lore behind having all of them gathered there) and hearing their outrageous dialogue ("So, what. We're going to go rob the elderly? Is it Tuesday again already?") was a nice break from the doom and gloom of so much of the storyline's content.

Guild Wars Beyond: Taunting the Ministry of Purity
Winds of Change (and in fact, all of Guild Wars Beyond) has the stated purpose of bridging the gap between Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2. That's a very real need; a lot happens in the 250 years between bidding our original characters farewell and reentering the world as we find it in Guild Wars 2. The danger of that is that people may feel a disconnect -- as if the games aren't two parts of the same story but rather two worlds that happen to have a shared name. Between the events of the companion novels and the story-building in Guild Wars Beyond, however, players should feel much more acclimated to the state of things in the sequel. It's building emotional connections before we even set foot in the world and updating our understanding of in-game politics and affairs.

Just as importantly, the Guild Wars Beyond storyline is also adjusting players to a different style of combat. Some of the fights, especially early on in the Winds of Change, are very typical last-man-standing brawls, but we've seen a fair few quests leaning more in the direction of what we expect to see in Guild Wars 2. Rubi pointed this out about the solo quests in Hearts of the North. Playing as Keiran Thackeray, we fought alongside Miku in some gameplay that did an excellent job of emulating what sort of combat we have to look forward to. This final installment of Winds of Change holds true to that as well. I'm not going to get into real plotline spoilers here, but if you don't want to hear about the final battle, skip the next paragraph.

Among the more significant things that Miku's Tale acclimatizes us to are some of the new profession mechanics that will have a big role in Guild Wars 2. Players use Improvised Fire Bombs during the Raid on Shing Jea Monastery, a clear nod to the GW2 Engineer's mines. More interesting, for me at least, are the mechanics at work in The Final Confrontation. Minister Reiko, the ultimate foe in this last portion of the Winds of Change, is a Mesmer, and her appearance in the final quest has very direct ties to the Mesmer of Guild Wars 2. Throughout the fight, she uses Echo Mirror to spawn phantasms of herself around the battlefield and further complicates things by using Mirror of Darkness to create copies of foes as well. Not only does this make for what may well be the best-executed and most engaging end boss yet seen in any of the released Guild Wars campaigns, but it's also a lovely preview of combat as a Guild Wars 2 Mesmer. While we're in the middle of not-quite-spoilers, I will say that the ending pretty much fit with my expectations. Looking backwards from the situation in Guild Wars 2, I didn't see how things could end any other way. And unlocking Zei Ri as a hero has me super motivated to plow through this again in hard mode!

Congrats, you're back in the spoiler-free zone!

The rewards for this update are pretty tasty. The Imperial weapons are lovely, but my favorite treats are the drops from the Imperial Guard Lockboxes. Many of the skins for the 13 green weapons contained within the Lockboxes are atypical for their weapon type. Xun Rao's Justice, for example, is a wand skinned to look like a sword (now that's what I call a caster-sword), and Xun Rao's Quill is the first of its kind in the game: a Strength-based parrying dagger that goes in the shield slot. Also, pandas! The Lockboxes feature an Imperial Panda License that will allow you to unlock and tame your very own panda. Incidentally, if the gods of random number generators don't favor you and you really have to have that panda, you can also unlock one for 15 gold Zaishen coins or 80,000 Balthazar faction points.

For those of you who aren't huge fans of the different spawns in explorable areas that Winds of Change has brought about, a quick chat with the Herald of Purity in Kaineng City will help you out. Any time after Cleansing Morostav Trail, you can take the quest Memories of Purity to go back to the halcyon days of Afflicted frolicking through the city streets.

And so it goes for the Winds of Change! Of course, not all changes this week occurred in the game. Our beloved Rubi has gone over to the dark side and started working at ArenaNet, where she's apparently having the time of her life -- who would have guessed, right? We wish her all the best and more.

Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at elisabeth@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.