So what makes Lion's Arch awesome? It's one of six huge cities that are the thriving populatiion centers of Tyria as we find it in Guild Wars 2, and since it doesn't have one single race to lend it culture and purpose, you can bet it had better be pretty special.
One of the more immediately noticeable things about Lion's Arch is its rather unusual architecture. I'd say the decorators had taken the nautical theme a bit too much to heart, but these boats aren't merely decoration: A great deal of the city is housed within decommissioned ships. In the general disaster following the Rise of Orr and the flooding of old Lion's Arch, there wasn't a lot of time or safety for gathering building materials, so the clever citizens and the refugees who joined them used what they had on hand -- boats, lots of boats. There are meetings in boats, bridges made of boats for you to walk through, decorations made of old boat bits... if you can use a boat for it, the good people of Lion's Arch probably did.
Lion's Arch, as map, has a tremendous amount of underwater content. It might not be an even split, but the watery depths around the city are teeming with beauty. One beautiful example is some of the crumbling remnants of old Lion's Arch; it's a pretty neat experience to be swimming along and suddenly recognize some familiar sites from 250 years past in and around the vegetation. The old Lion's Arch fountain, the steps up which every player has walked to learn some new skills or hear about that rascally Galrath and his villainy, the lions that guard it. It's all very recognizable.
This area, more than most, is a wonderful illustration of just how much time has passed. The place is, admittedly, a shambles, with some parts sunk lower than others, bits here and there that have vanished entirely, and an extraordinary number of plants making a home for themselves among the ruined masonry. On top of that, there are pillars and half-formed walls that we never saw in our earlier visit with Lion's Arch. It's a simple touch, but it goes a long way toward showing that history was, in fact, able to progress just fine after we had our fun in the original Guild Wars.
Of course, Lion's Arch isn't alone in the deep; in fact, it's just a tiny portion of the underwater area. There's a quaggan village, valleys of gently wafting seaplants, rocky pillars sporting giant clams and other colorful flora, and white sand dunes all ripe for exploring. All of this appears to be inhabited by fish and jellies of a friendly nature, so you don't seem to have to worry about convincing the locals that you are not for eating as you go about your adventures.
Underwater exploration is way better when you go for the gusto on entry. Sure, you can take a stroll down some sandy beaches or hop down a few rocks to get to the waters of Lion's Arch -- but you can also jump from very, very high up, do a couple of whirls and spins, and make a huge splash. There's a diving board in the southwest portion of the map that lets you do just that. You're treated to a lovely view on your way up, a pair of diving goggles that give you a couple of jumping-specific skills, and a long, long descent. Conveniently, the diving board lands you pretty close to the sunken remnants of old Lion's Arch, so it's a party no matter which end of the jump you're on.
Like all the major cities we've seen so far in Guild Wars 2, Lion's Arch is massive. While the city proper takes up a manageable portion of of the map, it's got outlying villages and training centers and nooks and crannies aplenty. There are two gorgeous waterfalls, some epic vistas, scads of interesting flavor conversations, and generally enough goings-on to keep you running around like a kitten on 'nip. A giant tower of boats, at the top of which is a nautical tavern? Sure. Piratical hideout with some truly impressive stalactites (and it must be admitted, equally daunting stalagmites)? Of course. Weird cave behind the waterfall full of spiders that looks like it's just begging to be explored? Naturally. While you might never be in fear for your life (unless your aim is way, way off on the diving board jump like this poor chap or chappess), Lion's Arch is far from dull.
Lion's Arch is more than just a metaphor for the connection between races and the awesome stuff they can do when they stop trying to kill each other long enough to take a stab at cooperation. It also actually connects all the races' capital cities, providing free and instantaneous travel via Asura gates. If you want to get somewhere quickly and cheaply, chances are you'll be headed through Lion's Arch to get there. Every race in the game starts out a hop, skip, and a jump away from its own main city, and every main city has a gate that leads to Lion's Arch. This makes things wonderfully convenient if you and your play-buddy of choice have decided that you just can't agree on a race -- just agree on a starting area and you can hop on over pretty much as soon as you've finished the tutorial encounter. This also means that if you're tired of leveling in an area, if you've seen all you want to see of a zone but are too low-level to move past it, or if you're hounding after completion points, you've got a quick and reliable way to get a toehold in any area. Moreover, Lion's Arch has a portal to the Mists and to the separate maps of WvW. It's something like the main train station of Tyria.
If there's anything I love, it's sneaking around in sewers. If there's anything I extra love, it's sneaking around in sewers and finding cool stuff. Under the city of Lion's Arch is a sewer system, charmingly referred to as the Bilges, which leads under most of the city proper and into a few unexpected areas. You can get yourself lost in the murky depths beneath the city or go hunting for enlightenment in the far corners of the system. It's all very atmospheric and romantic, and you might just find some interesting folks to talk to.
Massively's own Richie took some time during the beta weekend to get a respectable tour of the city together. The diving board and underwater images in this post are excerpted from his video, so if you like what you see, be sure to take a look -- more wonders await you!
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 email@example.com.