Flameseeker Chronicles The Gathering Storm preview
I know that nothing (nothing in the whole world, in the history of ever) sucks like waiting for the patch on patch day. There's the promise of wonderful things in the future, but they're just so tantalizingly out of reach.

So what better way to pass the time waiting for Guild Wars 2's February patch than by talking about it? I got a bit of a sneak preview at the incoming content over the weekend, so let's take a look at the nitty-gritty of what awaits us in the The Gathering Storm.

Flameseeker Chronicles The Gathering Storm preview
Spirit Watch

Spirit Watch is the brand-new sPvP map that's being added to the game. Its primary mechanic, as in all of the maps we've seen so far in Guild Wars 2, is capture-point based. There are three points around the map that you can capture and hold for points. That's being augmented by a capture-the-flag-esque mechanic: Players can carry an Orb of Ascension to capture points in order to earn points for their team.

Unlike some other secondary mechanics, like the Forest of Niflhel and Temple of Silent Storm ones that provide players specific buffs, ascending the Orbs grants your team raw points. You can take it to a point that your team controls for 30 points or an uncontested or enemy-controlled point for half that. If you take the orb to an enemy-controlled point, ascending the Orb will neutralize the point. That allows Orbs to be used strategically in the short-term (as a momentary point advantage for ascending it at your own point) or the long-term (by speeding up the capture process for a potentially renewing source of points). If dropped, the Orb can be picked up by members of either team. A few seconds after an Orb has been ascended, a replacement will appear at the original spawn point.

Flameseeker Chronicles The Gathering Storm preview
Like Temple of the Silent Storm, Spirit Watch is super vertical. The team bases are more or less right next to each other and not far from the Orb's spawn point. The three capture points are higher than the Orb, and getting to them with it is made trickier by the fact that players carrying the Orb have a decreased movement speed and can't be affected by quickness or stealth. That means it's up to your inherent sneakiness or your teammates to get up to a capture point. (It also means that while the Orb-carrier is slogging along, you can go capture or neutralize your enemies' shrine to take away their point advantage if you're anxious about your ability to actually take them down.)

I really enjoyed my time in Spirit Watch; most of the space in the map is given to height, so you always feel like you're near the combat rather than spread out all over an even plane. In addition, there are plenty of corners and a few ways to get to each point on the map, which allows for oodles of maneuvering.

Flameseeker Chronicles The Gathering Storm preview
Guild missions

The guild missions are bringing in a heaping helping of guild and organized content to PvE. In fact, they require (or seem to, for a group of 10-25 or so players) considerably more personal effort for reward than any of the current open-world events like the dragon spawn or temple events. There are five different types of guild missions: bounties, treks, rushes, challenges, and puzzles. Most of those types have multiple tiers that cost a little more to build, have a higher difficulty, and give greater guild rewards.

Guild bounties are perhaps the simplest of the mission types and the one you'll have access to first. The first bounty tier will set you chasing after two bosses in the open world. You won't be told precisely where to find these targets, but you'll be given pretty decent clues. If you're told that that Ander "Wildman" Westward was last seen hunting down some Karka, for example, you're not going to have too hard of a time pinpointing which map he'll be found in (I hope). These targets can spawn at any of a number of locations with a map, so you'll likely have to spread out to find and kill them within the time limit. Higher tiers of the bounty mission will set you after more bosses.

Guild treks are for the explorers-at-heart! Guild treks will give you the names of a set of locations, accompanied by a little screenshot, and leave you and your guildies to track them down within a time frame. These rely on a pretty good memory of different areas of the game coupled with a stomach for exploration: You may remember where the heart to help out Scourgejaw was, but do you know where his watchtower is? How about the Siamoth Sanctuary? From what I could see, these aren't precisely official names in the game, although I'm sure there'll be a wiki of every location in next to no time.

Flameseeker Chronicles The Gathering Storm previewGuild puzzles bring us to two areas we've never really been before. Where treks and rushes are built in the existing areas, the two puzzles are built fresh for this content. They're less jumping puzzles and more a series of little, well, puzzles. The bizarre Asura laboratory that we visited in Brisban Wildlands had about seven different rooms to be defeated, only two of which really required any jumping at all. This is content built for a minimum of six members, although more will definitely help. One drawback to the puzzle that we saw was that each room was sort of a thing unto itself, so woe betide the two or three guildies accidentally left behind when a door closes.

Guild rushes involve getting a number of participants through a course within a given time frame (for example, 15 people in 30 minutes). Players have to start the rush by accepting a transformation that will leave them with three skills -- typically one skill to reveal traps and two more to help them navigate the maze. (In one rush, the spare skills were a heal and a skill that made you healthier and invulnerable to cripple; in another, they let you play dead and burrow under the ground to avoid enemies.) Using these skills, you must remain in your transformation and make it through a series of checkpoints (yes, in the proper order). At the end, you'll receive a chest and get booted out of your transform. The rush event will stay up for the entirety of the allotted time, so the 16th person on a 15-player run doesn't get the short straw -- anyone who completes the rush within the time frame will receive rewards.

Guild challenges will hopefully be the real heart of organized guild content. While the other missions will work better if you've got people communicating and working things out, they'll probably also be doable if you just let everybody in the zone run crazy. Challenges seem to require more coordination (although if the scaling maxes out at some point, a large enough group could probably just roflstomp the content anyway). When a guild challenge starts, you're given an objective and a time limit in which that objective needs to be completed. In the case of the challenge I got to play, we had to defend some supply barrels for maybe 12 minutes. Sounds simple, right? Well, the thing is that as the time ticks down, enemies start coming in from different areas. So maybe at first it's OK if you're just standing near the crates spiking enemies down as they come in form one side, but then they start coming in from all around, and then there are more of them, and then some of them stop way away at longbow range and fire in from way out there, and everything just gets more complicated. It's really excellent because unless you've just got sheer force of numbers, you're going to have to coordinate who's going around and spiking down the archers, who's intercepting baddies before they get into the zone, and so on and so forth.

Flameseeker Chronicles The Gathering Storm previewAll the guild missions that we saw were pretty fun, even the ones that we didn't have the numbers or coordination to to complete. If you weren't able to stick with multiple guilds, I'd be pretty worried about what they mean for smaller social guilds. My guild has been miserly with our influence for roughly the past month in anticipation of this; we've got only about 25k influence built up, yet the cheapest of the unlocks costs about 50k (as well as some guild merits, which are a currency earned by completing guild missions, which is actually cool because it means that even if you're a huge guild sitting on piles of influence, you'll have to work to unlock the different mission types). As it is, I can see a lot of people (including me) sticking with their guild of choice and glomming onto a bigger guild for the sake of weekly missions. The way it works is you can get one personal reward per mission-type per week, much as the guild can earn a certain number of merits per mission-type per week. After that, and for anyone who isn't a guild member, you'll just be getting normal event-type rewards (plus chest loot on rushes and puzzles and boss and mob loot for other stuff like normal).

Guild commendations are part of the personal reward. I received two for completing a guild bounty and another for completing a guild puzzle. They can be traded for all sorts of things, from exotic-level guild backpacks and guild banner transformations to profession equipment boxes and Ascended gear. On top of that, the rest of the personal reward is awesome: 50 silver and two rares-or-better (with some stuff from the commendation vendor thrown into the loot table). Remember that you can receive that reward once per Mission-type per week, but that's still nothing to sniff at. Another good thing to note is that multiple guilds can have the same mission open (although you'll be given a random mission once you build the mission type), so collaboration will really benefit large and small guilds alike.

Overall, I'm pretty stoked to play this content in the live game, with all of my buddies and people from the server. It should be a really nice addition to the game's PvE content, and I hope ArenaNet builds on this sort of principle in the future.

Flameseeker Chronicles The Gathering Storm preview
And other stuff

Even if I had seen it in order to be able to do so, I wouldn't spoil the living story stuff for you fine folks. You'll have to log in and play that for yourselves! However, there's other stuff coming in this patch.

The new daily system is super robust. You can choose to do stuff like killing things in the Ascalon region, completing events while sidekicked down, gathering skillpoints, salvaging items, jumping puzzles, or about 10 other things on a daily basis. You've got a little progress bar telling you how you're doing on any of them, and you can then check which ones you want to count for your daily (I assume for tracking purposes).

One thing that I saw but that wasn't talked about were some exclusive hair and eye colors in the makeover kit. I certainly haven't seen them before while changing a character's appearance. I'm not certain that they'll be in this build, but it's something to keep an eye on in the future.

All in all, it should be an action-packed patch. Come check it out with me! On Wednesday from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EST, I'll be streaming alongside an ArenaNet developer as we enjoy some of the content and talk about the patch live! Come hang out with us, ask questions in-game or in chat, and we'll all have a wonderful time.

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.